Lt. Gen. Holland Smith - Disliked the 27th Infantry

Lt. Gen. Holland Smith - Disliked the 27th Infantry - Preview Image

Lt. General Holland Smith - pictured here, second-from-left and known to the men on Saipan as "Howlin' Mad" - was extremely proud of "my Marines."  He did not share the same feelings of pride about GIs, who were fighting for America in the Army - especially the men of the 27th Infantry Division.

Historians believe that General Smith's assessment of soldiers versus marines played a role in minimizing the 27th's contribution to the Saipan battle.  Francis O'Brien provides the following explanation:

Apart from Captain Edmund G. Love's 1949 book, The 27th Infantry Division in World War II, most of the books and articles written about Saipan during and after the war describe the Marine Corps' role in the battle; the 27th Division is hardly mentioned.  When the 27th is mentioned, its role is minimized and its performance disparaged.  (Battling for Saipan, by Francis A. O'Brien, Preface.)

Why was this?

The 27th had the unfortunate experience at Saipan of being under the command of a Marine Corps officer of superior rank - Lt. General Holland M. Smith, known as "Howlin' Mad" Smith to the veterans of the Saipan battle.  General Smith was a cantankerous old man (age sixty-two at the time of the battle) who had an extreme dislike for the United States Army and the 27th Division in particular.  Not surprisingly, Saipan was the first and only Pacific battle in which Marine officers commanded army troops in the field.  (Battling for Saipan, Preface.)

What did General Smith actually say about the 27th?  The following is an excerpt from his book, Coral and Brass - split into paragraphs for easier reading:

The trouble with the Twenty-seventh Division was, if I may coin a word, "militia-itis."

As originally mobilized, the division had come entirely from the New York National Guard, with a good record and tradition from World War I.  Much of its leadership, as was the case throughout the New York Guard, stemmed from a gentlemen's club known as the Seventh Regiment, traditionally New York's "silk stocking" outfit, and likewise a worthy unit, per se, with an impeccable reputation for annual balls, banquets and shipshape summer camps.

Any division, however, springing from such sources and maintained intact after mobilization, contains the entangled roots of home town loyalties, ambitions and intrigues.

Employer-noncommissioned officers in the Twenty-seventh were sometimes commanded, if that is the word, by employee-officers; there was sometimes a gentlemanly reluctance on the part of officers to offend Old Seventh messmates through harsh criticism or rigorous measures; in the eyes of many, especially the ambitious, there were reputations--New York reputations--to be made or broken; and behind all there was Albany, where the State Adjutant General's office allocated peacetime plus.

If that isn't harsh enough, General Holland then compared the fighting tactics of Marines versus the Army:

A lot has been written about the differences between Army and Marine methods in action. The two services use the same weapons and the same tactical manual and, there, I do not propose to enter into an unprofitable discussion here, but only to summarize the facts of the case concerning the Twenty-seventh Division on Saipan.

Although men of the 27th fought hard, and died horribly, General Holland goes on:

...The battalion from the 105th Infantry (which was subsequently awarded the Army's Distinguished Unit Citation for its performance on Saipan) failed to show the aggressiveness which its mission demanded...  (Excerpted passages from Coral and Brass by Holland M. Smith, pages 168-171.)

Was the role of the 27th Division also minimized in the American press?

In August 1944, LIFE magazine published an article about Saipan that barely mentioned the 27th Division.  It was written by Robert Sherrod, a Time-Life correspondent, who spent much of his time on Saipan at "Howlin' Mad" Smith's headquarters. 

In September 1944, Time published an article, which Mr. Sherrod subsequently acknowledged he wrote, disparaging the men of the 27th Division by claiming that at Saipan they "froze in their foxholes," and were "held up by handfuls of Japs in caves." 

As Sherrod admitted forty-six years later, these intemperate remarks had "a devastating effect on the morale of the 27th Division then retraining for combat at Espiritu Santo," and he apologized for publishing them in the Time article.

At the end of the analysis, it is clear that both soldiers and marines fought hard at Saipan.  Many, from both branches of service, died or were injured.  

Click on the image for a better view.

Credits

The image, above, is an official U.S. Navy photo, online courtesy the U.S. National Archives.

Navy and Marine officers in the photo, left to right, are:

Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner, USN;

Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, USMC;

Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN;

Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, USN;

Major General Roy S. Geiger, USMC;

Rear Admiral Richard L. Conolly, USN; and

Brigadier General Pedro A. del Valle, USMC

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