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1st Marine Division

Official Website of the 1st Marine Division (1st MarDiv)

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History of 1st Marine Division

The Old Breed
1st Marine Division
(Revised March 2006)
1st MarDiv Staff Secretary

The 1st Marine Division was activated aboard the battleship Texas on 1 February 1941. It is the oldest, largest, and most decorated division in the United States Marine Corps, with nine Presidential Unit Citations (PUCs).

The 1st Marine Division is comprised of Headquarters Battalion, the 1st, 5th, 7th, and 11th Marine Regiments, 1st and 3d Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalions, 1st Tank Battalion, and 3d Assault Amphibian Battalion. These units represent a combat-ready force of more than 22,000 Marines and Sailors.

Division regiments were in existence as early as March 8, 1911, when the 1st Marines was formed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It saw action in Haiti in 1915, in the Dominican Republic in 1916, and throughout the Caribbean during World War I. The 5th Marines was created in Vera Cruz, Mexico July 13, 1914. It served in Santo Domingo in 1925 and participated in 15 major engagements during World War I. These included Belleau Wood, Chateau and St. Mihiel. On Aug. 11, 1917, 7th Marines was activated in Philadelphia, Penn. It spent the duration of World War I in Cuba and was disbanded after the war. It was reactivated in 1941. The 11th Marines was formed in January 1918 at Quantico, Va., as a light artillery regiment. The regiment went to France as an infantry unit, providing a machine gun company and a guard company. Decommissioned and reactivated twice between world wars, the regiment again served as infantry in Nicaragua. Re-formed in 1940 as a full-fledged artillery unit, 11th Marines joined 1st Marine Division.

Medal of Honor winners for heroism on Guadalcanal at a formation on 21 May 1943 were, from left, MajGen Alexander A. Vandegrift, Col. Merritt A. Edson, 2ndLt. Mitchell Paige and Platoon Sergeant John Basilone.

The Guadalcanal campaign in 1942 was the first major American Pacific campaign in World War II and the first time the 1st Marine Division conducted combat operations as a division. The Division’s actions during this operation won it the first of three World War II PUCs. 1st Marine Division also won PUCs for the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa. Three weeks after Japan surrendered, the Division was dispatched to North China for occupation duty. While in China, the Division had numerous encounters with the Chinese Communists.

“The Old Breed,” as the Division became known, provided the Pusan Fire Brigade when war broke out in Korea and then was chosen to land at Inchon on 15 September 1950. The Division subsequently fought into the mountains around the Chosin Reservoir. The Chinese Communists suffered more than 37,500 casualties trying to stop the Marines’ march out of the “Frozen Chosin.” These battles, and those that followed between April and September, earned the Division its fourth, fifth, and sixth PUCs.

The 2d Battalion, 1st Marines deployed to Guantanamo Bay for two months in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. More than 11,000 Marines of the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade participated in the naval blockade which forced the withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba.

A landing zone is hastily prepared for a Marine helicopter and guarded by members of the 7th Marine Regiment during Operation Stockton near Da Nang, Vietnam in July 1967.

In 1965, 7th Marines participated in 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 Corps – Quang Tin and Quang Ngai. Between March 1966 and May 1967, the Division conducted 44 named and unnamed operations. Major engagements included Operations HASTINGS and UNION I and II. In these operations, 1st Marine Division units decisively defeated the enemy. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, the Division was involved in fierce fighting with both Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army elements. It successfully beat back and decimated every enemy assault in its area of operations, pursuing the enemy into his sanctuaries. It was during this period that the Division earned its seventh and eighth PUCs.

After six hard years, the 1st Marine Division returned to California in 1971, closing another chapter of dedicated service to Corps and country. 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.In 1990, the 1st Marine Division formed the core of the force sent to Southwest Asia in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. During Operation DESERT SHIELD, the Division provided the ground combat element of I Marine Expeditionary Force in Saudi Arabia against the Iraqi threat. In 1991, the Division fought alongside the 2d Marine Division under I MEF and with the rest of the Coalition Forces in Operation DESERT STORM. In 100 hours of offensive ground combat, 1st Marine Division destroyed the enemy in its path as it led the breakthrough to Kuwait City.

1st Marine Division Marines drill in preparation for the ground war.

Immediately following the Persian Gulf conflict, the Division sent units to assist in disaster relief efforts in Bangladesh (Operation SEA ANGEL) and the Philippines (Operation FIERY VIGIL). In 1992, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines and the 15th MEU, brought relief to famine-stricken Somalia. 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 27 April 1993 when the humanitarian relief sector of Mogadishu was handed over to Pakistani forces. Elements of the Division ultimately participated in the extraction of U.N. forces from Somalia.

In early 2003, the Division deployed by air and sea to link up with its advance headquarters deployed to Kuwait under I MEF. In a high speed attack, and in conjunction with 1 U.K. Armored Division and the 3d U.S. Army Infantry Division, the Marines and Sailors conducted the deepest penetrating ground operation in Marine Corps history. Attacking to Baghdad alongside 3d ID and eventually seizing Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, the Division again showed the Marine Air-Ground team in action. The 1st Marine Division conducted stability operations in Baghdad, Tikrit, and then in south-central Iraq from May to October 2003. The Division then returned home to Camp Pendleton and 29 Palms and prepared for redeployment. These actions earned the Division its ninth PUC.

In March 2004, the 1st Marine Division relieved 82d Airborne Division in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle. During Operation IRAQI FREEDOM II, the Division conducted counter-insurgency operations throughout the Al Anbar Province, culminating in Operation AL FAJR which liberated the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah and enabled the first legitimate elections to occur in Iraq. During February and March 2005, 1st and 2d Marine Divisions successfully conducted the largest relief in place in the history of the Marine Corps.

Today 1st Marine Division is a multi-role, expeditionary ground combat force. The Division is employed as the ground combat element (GCE) of I MEF 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.

Today, the 1st Marine Division continues to support the Global War On Terrorism by providing fully trained units and personnel in support of on-going Operation IRAQI FREEDOM/Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, MEU(SOC), and UDP requirements.

The state of the art MOUT facility provides a realistic urban training environment for thousands of 1st Marine Division Marines.

Headquarters Battalion provides command and administration for 1st Marine Division. Within the battalion are a headquarters and service company, military police company, a communications company, and a truck company. The division headquarters is located in the 11 Area, while Headquarters Battalion and its companies are located in the 33 Area. The 1st, 5th and 7th Marines each consist of one headquarters company and four infantry battalions, with one battalion deployed outside the continental United States at all times. The infantry battalions are the basic tactical units that the regiment uses to accomplish its mission of locating, closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and close combat. The 1st and 5th Regiments are located in the 53 and 62 Areas, respectively. The 7th Marines is located in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

The 11th Marines consists of a headquarters battery and four artillery battalions. The 11th Marines is the primary source of fire support for 1st Marine Division in amphibious assault and subsequent operations ashore. It provides direct and general fire support to frontline units as required by the infantry commanders. The 11th Marines’ organic weapon is the 155 mm howitzer (M198 towed howitzers). The Las Pulgas (43) Area is home to 11th Marines, 1/11 and 2/11. Las Flores (41) Area is home to 5/11 and 3/11 is located at Twentynine Palms.

1st Tank Battalion was activated on 1 November 1941 and is located at Twentynine Palms, Calif. Its mission is to provide combat power to 1st Marine Division in the form of amphibious and/or Maritime Preposition Forces; conduct operations ashore utilizing maneuver, armor protected firepower, and shock action in order to close with and destroy the enemy. As a separate battalion, 1st Tank Battalion is responsible for providing armored assets as well as anti-armor systems and staff expertise in their employment. The 1st Tank Battalion is equipped with the M1A1 Abrams Battle Tank.

The 1st Combat Engineer Battalion performs many specific functions while fulfilling its mission of providing both tactical and logistical engineer support to 1st Marine Division. The battalion shares San Mateo (62) Area with 5th Marines.

The mission of 3d Assault Amphibian Battalion is to transport the surface assault elements of the landing force from amphibious shipping to inland objectives during the amphibious assault and to provide support to mechanized operations ashore. The amphibious assault vehicles are primarily used to transport personnel in tactical operations. The battalion is located in Camp Del Mar (21) Area.

The Division has two light armored reconnaissance battalions. The mission of a LAR battalion is to conduct reconnaissance, security and economy of force operations, and within its capabilities, limited offensive or delaying operations that exploit the unit's mobility and firepower. 1st LAR Battalion was activated 31 May 1985 and is located at Las Flores (41) Area. 3d LAR Battalion was activated on 11 September 1986 and is located at Twentynine Palms.

The Division reactivated the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion on 8 June 2000 but the battalion was originally activated on 1 March 1937. It now calls the Margarita(33) Area home. Before 1944 Marine Recon was primarily scout/sniper units. In April 1944 a two company amphibious reconnaissance battalion was formed with the mission of conducting beach reconnaissance and hydrographic survey. Today the Battalion performs a wide variety of tactical and special operations in support of the Division.