Marine Corps In Europe During WWII

Most of us have heard about the United States Marine Corps’s proud history of sacrifices and successes in the Pacific Theater during WWII. Though there were large numbers of U.S. Army troops that were involved in the island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific, it was the Marines who bore the greatest loads in that arena. But there is another part of USMC, WWII history that very few know about, that is, the Marine Corps’s smaller but important role in the efforts to stop Hitler’s fascist expansionism in the European Theater as well. This is their story.

Before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and before the official involvement of America in the Allied effort to defeat Hitler’s conquest of Europe, Marines were called upon to play a part in the European war. In July of 1941, the 4,000-man 1st Marine Provisional Brigade was called upon to relieve British forces in Iceland. The British had stationed troops in Iceland to prevent German access to it to establish U-Boat and Air bases there. If the Germans could get control of Iceland, it would have made England very vulnerable. The presence of the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade made it possible to release the British forces for immediate deployment to the battlefronts on the European continent. When the bombing of Pearl Harbor happened in December of 1941, the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade was relocated to the Pacific Theater.

Photo: YouTube/Mark Felton Productions

Marines were also involved in the Anglo-Canadian raid at Dieppe, France, on the 19th of August, 1942. Marine Brig. Gen. Harold Campbell was attached to the British Combined Operations staff and helped plan the raid carried out by some 6,000 troops.

In 1942, Operation Torch in North Africa was conducted by U.S. Army forces who were trained by U.S. Marines in the disciplines and coordination of amphibious landing operations.

Photo: YouTube/Mark Felton Productions

Marines themselves conducted two landings in North Africa. Two small Marine Corps units were drawn from Marines attached to U.S. Navy ships. One of these groups conducted a successful landing on the Algerian coast. They landed on the caost and then marched to the port of Oran and occupied an old Spanish fort there. The second unit, made up of Marines from the Cruiser USS Philadelphia captured an airfield in Morocco.

51 Marines were also loaned to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and were trained in the arts of espionage and sabotage and how to conduct operations behind enemy lines alongside local resistance groups in places like Yugoslavia, Albania, and Greece. Many of these men were killed or captured conducting those very dangerous operations.

Photo: YouTube/Mark Felton Productions

It is little known that Marines were also present and active in Operation Overlord, or the D-Day Invasion, on June 6, 1944. Marine sharpshooters on U.S. Navy ships were assigned the duty of taking out loose sea mines in the waters off of the landing beaches with rifle fire, to prevent them from damaging the ships involved in the landings.

Finally, Marines were also involved in Operation Dragoon in August of 1944. Marines taken from the Cruiser USS Philadelphia and the battleship USS Augusta landed and took the French port of Marseille, accepting the German surrender of the important seaport.

Photo: YouTube/Mark Felton Productions

Though the United States Marine Corps’s involvement in the European Theater was small in comparison to its involvement in the Pacific, its participation played a role in the ultimate defeat of the Nazi efforts to conquer Europe.

The United States Marine Corps has a proud history. The Corps is proud of their legendary fame earned at great cost in the Pacific Theater against Japanese Imperialism. Though less appreciated, the Corps is equally proud of its lesser known contributions to the victory against Nazi Fascism in Europe. OoRah!

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