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©2014 Jim Werbaneth

December 17, 2014

By Jim Werbaneth


The United States Army’s 77th Infantry Division in World War II was a highly proficient, accomplished military unit.  Not an elite formation by dint of designation or special role, nonetheless it was one of the best the army had to offer in the Pacific, approaching and even reaching an effective elite status through its achievements.

There are several ways to define an elite military unit.  Sometimes one is granted that title for what looks like arbitrary reasons; the unit is elite because the regime says it is.  To a large extent, this was the case for many German SS units and, in later conflicts, Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard.  In both cases, designation by the regime was followed up by favoritism, giving the elite force a priority for men and equipment, especially when both were at a premium for other, less exalted formations.  Sometimes “elite” is earned on the battlefield, and recognized publicly by higher leadership.  A good example of this would be Guards units in the Soviet Army during World War II.  Again, this status was rewarded with first call on recruits and hardware.  There were other units that had superior leadership and cohesion, often matched with special capabilities.  Special operations forces certainly meet this criterion, as do marines and paratroopers of many nations.  Often, combat performance confirms the promise of such elites, witnessed by American and British paratroopers in World War II, and the Royal Marines and paratroopers in the Falklands.

There is a temptation for even knowledgeable observers to look at the mass of conventional, regular, formations that make up an army as pretty much alike.  Those in a professional army might look equally professional, and those in a conscription-based force as rough equals to each other, perhaps a notch below their professional and, for that matter, established, pre-war reserve units.  Yet this perception can be quite wrong.




The origins of the division date back to World War I.  The 77th Division was activated on 18 August 1917, and it was sent to Europe in March 1918.  It is credited with participation in two campaigns, the Meuse-Argonne and the Oise-Aisne.  In the former, six companies of its 308th Infantry Regiment, and one of the 307th Infantry, were the famed “Lost Battalion,” cut off from the rest of the division.  Throughout the Great War, the 77th Infantry Division suffered 1,486 killed and 8,708 wounded in action.  It was returned to the United States and deactivated in April 1919.[1]

With the outbreak of the Second World War, the 77th Division was reactivated on 25 March 1942 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and redesignated as the 77th Infantry Division on 20 May.  It moved to the Louisiana Maneuver Area on 25 January 1943, participating in the Third Army No. 1 maneuvers.  Then on 19 April it went to Camp Young, California, undergoing desert training.    From there it travelled across the country to A.P. Hill Military Reservation, Virginia, arriving on 1 October 1943.  Eight days later, it went to Camp Pickett.  Based there, it took part in the West Virginia-Norfolk maneuvers, 15 October 1943 to 2 January 1944.  On 19 March the division completed yet another cross-country move, arriving at Camp Stoneman, California.    Five days later, it embarked from San Francisco for service in the Pacific, arriving in Hawaii on 30 March.[2]  Its training continued on Oahu, focusing on individual, small unit and amphibious training.[3]

The first commander of the division in World War II, to June 1942, was one of the more important officers of the Pacific War: Major General Robert L. Eichelberger.[4]  Eichelberger did not serve in France in World War I, but commanded the small American task force detailed to Vladivostok in September 1918.  In the Russian Far East, his force’s mission was to assist the extraction of the Czech corps fighting the Bolsheviks.  Coincidentally, he had the opportunity to work with a much larger Japanese force of 72,400 soldiers, thus gaining an unusually close perspective of the Imperial Japanese Army.  Further, he earned both the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal for his service in Russia.[5]

Eichelberger enjoyed a solid if not altogether spectacular career between wars, primarily in intelligence, the Adjutant General’s Department, and in the Office of the Secretary of the General Staff.  In November 1940 he was promoted to Brigadier General, and made Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point.   The next year he received his second star, and in 1942 command of the 77th Division.[6]

However, Eichelberger really began to demonstrate his talents after leaving the division to assume command of I Corps in the South Pacific.  In this capacity, he took charge of the Allied forces attacking Buna on the northern coast of New Guinea.  There, he relieved the commander of the heretofore ineffective 32nd Infantry Division, addressed medical shortcomings, and changed tactics from frontal assaults to more nuanced infiltration.  Additionally, Eichelberger established by example a practice of officers leading from the front.[7]

Eichelberger continued to excel through the campaign across the New Guinea and then the Philippines, and in November 1944 MacArthur appointed him commander of the Eighth Army.  However, their relationship could be unpleasant, as MacArthur grew jealous of the positive media coverage that the charismatic, sarcastic, and often profane Eichelberger enjoyed.  After the capture of Buna, the I Corps commander was the subject of favorable treatment in the Saturday Evening Post and Life magazine.  MacArthur was so incensed that he threatened Eichelberger with relief of command and reduction in rank if he did not stop, in MacArthur’s view, grandstanding for the press.[8]

While Eichelberger’s performance in the South Pacific postdated his command of the 77th Infantry Division, it is evidence that he was a highly talented officer who really came into his own with the onset of hostilities.  On one hand, he was able to establish a rapport with his soldiers, command respect by example, and focus on the fundamentals of small-unit training and tactical doctrine.  At the same time he was able to survive under the imperious, media-jealous MacArthur, after the near-run thing following the capture of Buna.  Present at the creation of the 77th Division and overseeing its initial organization and training, Eichelberger has to be viewed as a positive influence during its formative months.  Indeed, consistent with his later history as I Corps commander, the 77th’s divisional history, Ours to It Hold High, records:

General Eichelberger hard directed that from the start the Division would maintain superior standards of discipline, police and dress.  He had also ordered that when the new men arrived at Fort Jackson, they should find clean quarters, hot showers, hot food, and clean beds already made up for them.  This meant a great deal of dirty, undignified work for the officers and non-commissioned officers.[9]

Thus Eichelberger established, from the beginning, a concern for the welfare of the enlisted soldiers, even though it called for “a great deal of dirty, undignified work” for those who would be their leaders.

Upon Eichelberger’s promotion, he was succeeded by Major General Roscoe B. Woodruff.  This officer remained in command for the next eleven months,[10] among the most important of the division’s extended training, including the Louisiana Maneuvers and much of the division’s desert training at Camp Hyder, Arizona.[11]  Curiously, the division’s history says almost nothing about Woodruff, except to state that he had been Eichelberger’s assistant division commander, and that the troops “had full confidence in him.”[12]  He was promoted to command VII Corps in Europe on 22 May 1943, and was succeeded by Andrew D. Bruce.[13]

Bruce would command the division for the rest of the war, and until its deactivation afterward.  Not a West Point alumnus, Bruce graduated from Texas A&M University in 1916, and was commissioned the next year.  Bruce was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, and fought as a temporary lieutenant colonel in all of its actions in World War I.  After the Great War, he taught in the Infantry School, and also as a professor of military science and tactics at Allen Academy in Bryan, Texas.  He attended the Command and Staff College, then organized and commanded the Tank Destroyer School at Fort Hood, Texas.  Much of Bruce’s interwar, and post-World War II, career involved work as a trainer in both infantry and tank destroyers.  Perhaps fittingly, upon his retirement from the army as a lieutenant general in 1954, he entered academia; for the next seven years he served as president and then chancellor of the University of Houston.[14]  Ultimately, Bruce would be the most important commander the 77th Infantry Division would have in World War II, even more than Eichelberger, leading it through all of its combat operations.

When formed, the division’s enlisted complement was unusually mature.  The average age of the enlisted soldiers was almost thirty-two, with a number of men much older.  These included World War I veterans who volunteered for service in their old, recently-reactivated division, with at least two in their early fifties, and one man had reached the militarily-elderly age of fifty-seven.  Due to their ages and, in many cases, being heads of families, ordinarily they would not have been sent to a combat unit, let alone the infantry.  However, even in early 1942, there was seen such a need for infantrymen that these older men were pressed into service.[15]

The division was not without its discipline problems, to be expected in any military unit.  There were “a few brawls in town [Columbia, South Carolina], a few AWOLs, and a few cases of venereal disease; but surprisingly few considering the number of men in the Division.”[16]  The divisional history credits the maintenance of discipline to “The age and steadiness of the great majority” of the men, though admits that an early lenience toward men going absent without leave led to more “unauthorized vacations;” thus the division had to resort to courts martial to discourage the practice.[17]

This relatively maturity of the division’s enlisted men ranks as one of its more important attributes.  It represents a kind of trade off, not one for which the division volunteered, but which affected its performance and character nonetheless.  One could expect a higher level of emotional maturity among most soldiers, as the divisional history attests.  At the same time, older men would lack some of the physical strength and stamina of their younger comrades.  This could be expected to handicap the division particularly in the tropical environments in which it fought, and especially the rougher terrain of Guam and the Philippines.  Finally, one has to wonder if these older men, many of them husbands and fathers, would lack some of the self-perceived invincibility of younger, single men.

This could be expected to be maintained throughout the war either.  The United States Army had a weak replacement system, and those for the infantry were in especially short supply.  In 1944, twenty-two divisions, three armored, one airborne, and eighteen infantry were stripped of between 1,652 and 5,581 soldiers apiece, before embarkation, to supply replacements to divisions already depleted in combat.[18]  Further, unlike the Wehrmacht, the United States Army made no effort to socialize replacement soldiers into their new units, nor give much thought to compatibility.  Replacements were poured into units while there were in combat, rather than in rest areas, depriving them of either a chance to assimilate into their new formations, or learn from veterans.  Therefore they were all too frequently killed off before they could become truly effective members of their teams.[19] 

It is highly probable that high casualties, especially among the combat arms, combined with an influx of casualties would depress not just the bayonet strength of a division, but also its character.  Units would lose proficiency, cohesion, and come to resemble most of the others of its type.  In any division, the replacement of combat veterans with green replacements, who would also have a tendency to be killed or wounded soon after their arrival, would diminish the objective strength of the division.  Simultaneously, any demographic or regional distinctions would fade with the infusion of new soldiers drawn from a central pool.  Thus the mature, steady nature of the 77th Infantry Division’s personnel could be expected to be diluted by the sort of younger, physically stronger but less mature soldier who comprised most other US Army divisions.




The 77th Infantry Division’s first commitment to combat was in Operation Forager, the amphibious invasion of the Marianas Islands in the summer of 1944.  The invasion of Saipan was scheduled for 15 June, with Guam to follow three days later.  On 3 June, with the division located in Hawaii, it was alerted for movement to the Marianas.[20]  Amphibious operations in the Marianas were divided among two corps, both under Marine generals; V Amphibious Corps, commanded by Holland M. “Howling Mad” Smith, would be responsible for attacking Saipan and Tinian in the north.  Roy Geiger, who had commanded the Marine air units at Henderson Field during the battles for Guadalcanal, would lead the III Amphibious Corps in its liberation of Guam.[21]  One regimental combat team was slated to be available to go ashore on the day of Guam’s invasion, termed W-Day, with the other two to be ready no later than W+2.[22]

Plans changed rapidly.  In the beginning, the Army’s 27th Infantry Division was supposed to be in reserve for either Saipan or Guam.  However, fierce Japanese resistance on the former demanded its commitment.  Additionally, a sortie by the Japanese fleet called for an American naval response.  One was the shift of the American transports out of the danger zone; keeping them near Guam would have been dangerous folly.  Another was the cancellation of W-Day.[23]

The Marines invaded Guam on 21 July, over a month later than originally planned.  The 305th Infantry Regiment was the first large unit of the 77th Infantry Division to go ashore that day, landing on the northern beachheads established by the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade.  The 2nd Battalion of the regiment led the way, impeded by a lack of amphibious tractors to take them to the beach.  As their landing craft could not take them over the reef, most of the soldiers had to disembark and wade the rest of the way in, cutting their boots on the coral and sometimes falling into holes.  Fortunately there was no enemy resistance to turn this into a redux of Tarawa.[24]

General Geiger was reluctant to part with his reserve, and thus the other two regiments were landed piecemeal, with the 306th coming next; the 307th was retained as the last floating reserve.[25]  Then it too landed, on 23 July.[26]

Though as green a division as one could find in the Pacific at the time, the 77th performed well, and maintained a good working relationship with the Marines.  Ronald Spector characterizes Bruce as “an aggressive, intelligence commander.”[27]  If anything, Bruce was almost too aggressive, even for the Marines.  In one instance, at Eniwetok on 11 July, he pressed upon the Marines a plan for his division to make a daring secondary landing.  When this was rejected, he appealed to General Geiger, who had already sailed for the Marianas.  Geiger too turned him down, on the grounds that it was far too late for a major change in plan.[28]

The battle for Guam was much quicker than that for Saipan.  By 26 July, the Japanese were essentially broken, though much fighting remained.  The 1st Provisional Marine Brigade captured the airfields and Orote Peninsula, while the 77th Infantry Division linked up with the 3rd Marine Division and pushed north and west, taking the capital of Agana on 31 July. [29]  By the end of the battle, the division lost 248 killed in action and 663 wounded.  On the other side of the ledger, it was credited with killing 2,741 Japanese, and capturing 36 prisoners.[30]   Interestingly, on Guam the 77th Infantry Division went from being a reserve for contingencies, to acting as the exploitation force, breaking off from the smaller Marine brigade, which operated closer to the western shore of the island.  The Marines spearheaded the landings, and the Army made them worthwhile.

The division remained on Guam until 3 November 1944, sailing for the Philippines, and the attack on Leyte.[31]  Again, the 77th Infantry Division was designated as the reserve, along with the 32nd Infantry Division, this time for the Sixth Army.  The army consisted primarily of X Corps, comprised of the 1st Cavalry and 24th Infantry Divisions, and XXIV Corps, with the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions.  Like the 77th, all except the raw 96th Infantry Division had seen combat, primarily in the South Pacific, while the 7th fought at both Kwajalein and, in a much different Pacific environment, Attu in the Aleutians.[32]

There was another force allocated to the operation.  Initially, there was supposed to be an amphibious assault on Yap, and with that mind, a new type of garrison force had been assembled to hold the island.  When the Yap landing was cancelled, Admiral Chester Nimitz suggested that it be diverted to Leyte, in the hope that it could take over rear area duties from the assault forces.  Sixth Army commander Walter Krueger ended up making little use it, ultimately.  However, it did have a connection with the 77th Infantry Division, as its commander was Major General Roscoe B. Woodruff, returned from Europe.[33]

Once again, the target of the invasion was not as strongly defended as it could be.  Initially, Leyte was defended by just the reinforced 16th Division.  When Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita arrived in the summer of 1944 to take over the defense of the Philippines, he found such a shortage of labor units that combat forces had to be redirected to building airfields, and then fortifications.  Further, Imperial Headquarters in Tokyo were determined to fight the decisive land battle on Luzon, and so refused permission to reinforce Leyte.[34]

This time, the landings on Leyte were made by Army troops, not the Marines, on 20 October 1944.  Both corps landed on the northeast coast of the island, X Corps near Palo[35] and XXIV Corps around Dulag and San Jose.[36]  From there, they advanced west, as the Japanese responded by reinforcing the island.  By the middle of the next month, approximately 55,000 men were landed to at Ormoc, on the northwest coast, oppose the Americans.  Due to the strains of the naval Battle of Leyte Gulf on the American flat tops and their planes, and the loss of escort carriers in the Samar Strait, the Japanese were capable of moving soldiers in the face of what should have been overwhelming American airpower.  Then the Fifth Air Force was incapable of mustering major elements on the island, as the captured enemy airfields turned into seas of mud in the rain, and required major construction work.  One small airstrip near Tacloban was opened on 27 October, and that could accommodate only a few dozen P-38 Lightnings.[37]

One solution was to conduct a second landing in the Japanese rear, near Ormoc, even as the 7th Infantry Division finally won the hard-fought “Battle of the Ridges.”  On 7 December, the 77th Infantry Division made a landing at Deposito, near Ormoc.  The 7th and 77th Divisions conducted a coordinated attack toward Ormoc, in the process catching the Japanese 26th Division between them, dooming it.[38]

Displaying characteristic aggressiveness, General Bruce abandoned his original plans to establish a beachhead, consolidate it, and then move inland.  But because there was no organized resistance, he quickly determined to exploit the situation and drive to the north, toward Ipil, with the two available battalions of the 307th Infantry Regiment (one was on Samar) right away.  Japanese resistance stiffened before that town.  Then the 305th Infantry, as well as supporting tanks, followed by the 306th Infantry, joined the battle.  Supported by rocket-firing Navy landing craft, the division entered Ormoc on 10 December.[39]

With the fall of Ormoc, the Japanese were no longer capable of reinforcing Leyte.  Their last major attempt to ferry units there before the port’s fall involved a reinforced regiment, but only a Special Naval Landing Force made it in the face of American airpower.  At the same time, more reinforcements were forced by the same aerial bombardment to put in at Polompon, thus greatly delaying their advance toward Ormoc.[40]

Bruce did not delay after taking Ormoc.  On the same day that it fell, he devised a new scheme of maneuver.  This was to break away from his base, and use what the Army’s official history terms “Indian warfare or blockhouse tactics,”[41] mixing a combination of offensive-mindedness and prudence.  His units would advance during the day, and then dig in for an all-around defense at night, in order to ward off Japanese counterattacks.  Then during the day, an armed convoy would move from position to position.  Further, he integrated the Filipino guerrillas into his operations, using them to guard bridges and secure intelligence.[42]

The division also used the American control of the waters to its advantage.  As the rest of the division made an overland march on Polompon, a reinforced battalion of the 305th Infantry Regiment made an amphibious end-around on Christmas, taking this coastal town.  With its liberation, the Americans denied the Japanese their last means of either reinforcing or evacuating Leyte.  Thus, the division ensured that the Japanese units remaining on the island would be completely destroyed.[43]

Nor was this the last amphibious movement for the division.  On 3 January 1945, a reinforced company moved along the north coast to Villaba.  There it encountered sixty Japanese, and claimed to kill ten.  Moreover, the division took responsibility for the area from the 1st Cavalry Division, which had been patrolling there.[44]

The division’s pursuit continued through 1 February.  There were some Japanese attacks during the predawn hours that morning.  The Americans continued to advance during the day, mopping up about three hundred stragglers.  These were the last engagements of the “tired and ragged” 77th Infantry Division, as it was relieved by the Americal Division.[45]  In combat from 7 December 1944 to early February 1945, the 77th Infantry Division was estimated to have killed 19,456 enemy soldiers, taken 124 prisoners, and cleared 42.5 miles of road.  This was at a cost of 543 killed and 1,469 wounded.  For every American casualty, the division was believed to have killed ten Japanese, the best casualty ratio of any division in any Pacific War campaign.[46]




After the liberation of Leyte, the division moved to Tarragona, for rest and rehabilitation.  This was sorely needed, after two months of hard combat, especially on its vehicles and weapons.  To make matters worse, when it had landed on Leyte, it only had about 55% of its organic transport.  In addition, it was to receive upgrades in its equipment, including the new M-18 tank destroyer, advanced gun sights, and tanks mounting 105mm howitzers and flamethrowers.[47]  Its war was hardly over, as it was designated to take part in the last, and bloodiest, of the Pacific War’s battles.  Accordingly, it set sail for the Ryuku Islands on between 18 and 24 March 1945.[48]

The division’s first battles in the Ryukus were in the Kerama Retto archipelago, six days before the main American effort against Okinawa.  The Americans arrived on 26 March and quickly seized the four central islands: Aka, Geruma, Hokaji, and Zamami.  Japanese resistance was light, and by late morning it Bruce decided that he could take one more island.  Therefore one reserve battalion was sent to take Yakabi, and it was secured by 1341 on 26 March 1945.  Two days later, Tokashiki was in American hands, and the first stage of the campaign for the Ryukyus was over.[49]

The division inflicted upon the Japanese 530 killed, captured 121 prisoners, and secured 1,195 civilians.  It further captured large quantities of enemy supplies and equipment, much of it redirected to sustain the civilian population, and captured or destroyed 359 suicide boats.  Finally, the division secured an anchorage among islands through which supplies would flow to Okinawa.  All of this was accomplished at price of 78 Americans killed or mortally wounded, and 177 wounded.[50]

The next objective was Ie Shima, about three and a half miles from Okinawa.  It had three excellent airfields, and in the words of the Army’s official history of the battle for Okinawa, it resembled “a huge, immovable aircraft carrier.”   It was also heavily fortified, and occupied by about 2,000 troops, aided by thousands civilian laborers; of an initial population of 8,000, only about 3,000 were evacuated to Okinawa. [51]

Bruce ordered a two-pronged assault by the 305th and 306th Infantry Regiments for 16 April.  The attack was a calculated risk, opposed by the division’s supply officers, as reef conditions severely limited the use of landing craft.  Instead, the Americans would rely on their DUKW’s and LVT’s to negotiate the wide, rough coral reef.  In addition, Bruce planned to use a minimum of supplies at first.  Then, after the 305th Infantry had captured better beaches from landward, then he could send supplies and heavy equipment ashore there.[52]

Supported by a heavy naval bombardment, the 77th Infantry Division went ashore on Ie Shima at dawn on 16 April.  The landings went smoothly, but on that night the 3rd Battalion, 305th Infantry was subject to a suicidally reckless counterattack.  Then the next day, the regiment continued its attack, making good progress, but then meeting stiffer resistance.  As a result, Bruce committed his reserve, the 370th Infantry Regiment, the next day.[53]  Plus, as he had anticipated, the division was barely supplied over the original landing beaches, a situation aggravated by rain squalls and frequent kamikaze attacks that scattered the ships.[54]

The rest of the battle for Ie Shima was a bitter one, with heavy casualties at times.  Officially, organized resistance ceased at 1345 21 April.  However, the island still needed to be mopped up, and two days later the last Japanese counterattack occurred.  Through 24 April, the 77th Infantry Division incurred 172 killed in action, 902 wounded, and 46 missing.  Losses in equipment, and ammunition expenditures, were also unusually high for such a short engagement.[55]

Meanwhile, a much larger battle raged on Okinawa, starting 1 April.  At first the Marines and soldiers encountered little opposition, and by the end of 2 April, the 7th Infantry Division had crossed to the east coast of the island, effectively cutting it in two.  Then as the Americans turned south, they encountered increasing resistance.  This was something of a surprise, as they expected the bulk of the Japanese defenses to be concentrated in the north.[56]  While the Americans found defenses firming up before Shuri in the south, others in the northern part of the island were busy mopping up and conducting counter-guerrilla operations.  The most effective opposition at this point came less from Japanese ground units, and from kamikazes, hitting the ships offshore.[57]

The next week, the 96th Infantry division attempted to take the heights near Kakazu, and was repulsed with heavy losses.  Likewise, the 7th Infantry Division was stopped.  Then, goaded by his aggressive chief of staff, the Japanese commander decided to launch a determined counterattack, in order to split the American line in half.  On the night of 12 April, the Japanese launched the assault.  It was decimated by both American troops, and naval gunfire over two nights.  Then the Japanese went back on the defensive, recovering from the ill-advised attack.[58]

Most of 77th Infantry Division moved from Ie Shima to Okinawa, landing there on 27 April.  The 307th Infantry Regiment remained on the smaller island as a garrison force until 7 May, when it joined the rest of the division.  With the entire force on the island, it relieved the 96th Infantry Division.[59]

The division’s first battle on Okinawa was at the “Escarpment,” a ridge line near Shuri.  The 77th Infantry Division assaulted it, starting April 30.  The battle was an extremely difficult one, made worse by the cliffs and rough terrain.  On 7 May, the 307th Infantry’s 1st Battalion used an especially inventive set of equipment to attack the Escarpment.  This included a large trough for pumping gasoline across the ridge to burn the defenders out of a large cave on the reverse slope.  There was also a pinnacle that had been especially difficult to attack, due to enemy fire.  To get at this position, the Americans assembled ladders and cargo nets.

The division continued driving southward through May, occupying the ruins of Shuri on the thirty-first.  Then, through June, it covered the right flank of the III Amphibious Corps, sealing Japanese cave positions.  On 24 June, its hard fighting on Okinawa came to an end, as the 77th Infantry Division went into bivouac north of Shuri and engaged in patrolling and outposting.[60]

Okinawa was the last battle fought by the division.  It shipped out from the island in June and moved to Cebu, in the Philippines.  There, it prepared for the invasion of Japan, while recovering from the losses and exhaustion of Okinawa.[61]  General Bruce took an especially active role in the setting up the troops’ camp.  As Ours to Hold it High relates:

He personally designed many of the native style buildings and contributed ideas for decorations and furnishings.  He chose sites for the four enlisted men’s recreation centers before the rest of the camp was laid out in detail.  He was determined that the 77th should have a pleasant camp and an enjoyable stay on Cebu.[62]

Not that the divisions facilities were Bruce’s only concern.  While on Cebu, Bruce was immersed in the 77th’s plans for its role in the invasion of Japan.  That frenzy of activity ended though with Japan’s surrender.

The division’s war was over.  It did not go to Japan as invaders, but it did go anyway, as occupiers.  It loaded onto a transport convoy on 23 September, and set sail with orders to sail for Otaru, Hokkaido, arriving on 5 October.  It left Cebu on 26 September.[63]  The division arrived on schedule.[64]  It stayed on Hokkaido until March 1946, when it was deactivated.




The 77th Infantry Division proved to be one of the outstanding United States Army divisions of World War II.  On its face, there was little special about it, at least at the beginning; it was one of many formed from draftees upon the expansion of the Army from a small force of professionals and the National Guard to a large, mass citizen army.  It had the idiosyncrasy of being, on the whole, older than most infantry divisions, but other than that, there was little to differentiate it from all the others.  New divisions were not usually rushed into combat, so the two-year training period was not uncommon either.  Yet few amassed the record of solid performance, in a wide variety of circumstances, as the 77th.  It started as an exploitation force on Guam, breaking out from the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade’s beachhead.  Then on Leyte, it functioned again as a reserve, but now made its own landing, albeit unopposed, to the Ormoc area.  From there it pursued the Japanese through a combination of overland and amphibious movements.

Its most major tests were in the Ryukyus.  The capture of the Kerama Retto was relatively easy, against weak and scattered Japanese resistance.  However, Ie Shima was a much tougher objective.  For the first time, the division faced concentrated, prepared defenses, further augmented by a determined kamikaze offensive against its supporting shipping.  Thus not only did the division face an effective defense, but also logistical shortages; this started with the choice of landing beaches, and was aggravated by Japanese airpower.  From there, the 77th Infantry Division moved to Okinawa, and joined the frontal, attritional slugfest on the island.

There were some attributes that enabled the division to achieve a superior record of performance.  To start with, it was committed to Guam as a reserve, and thus did not have to fight its way ashore; that was the job of the Marines.  Then the battle that it fought was on a large island, with room to maneuver.  In the next battle, Leyte, the division again came in later, against an enemy on the verge of breaking.  Again, it made the best of the situation, conducting an impressive pursuit.  It was short on vehicles, but made up for it with deft use of amphibious movement.  Thus by the time that it reached the Ryukyus for the last campaign of the Pacific War, the 77th Infantry Division was well-trained and experienced, with a history of success under widely different circumstances .

This history also reveals an advantage, not of the division’s making, or that of its commanders: It was eased into the really hard fighting.  Guam was the least taxing of its three major campaigns, but conducted in rough, broken terrain without much infrastructure or native population.  Leyte was harder, at times due to Japanese resistance, but also from a technical standpoint, particularly due to a shortage of transport assets.  Finally, with the exception of the Kerama Retto, the Ryukyus were the culmination of the division’s war in the Pacific.

The history of the 27th Infantry Division offers a stark contrast.  The New York National Guard division, its first action was the invasion of Makin Atoll, coincident with the Marines amphibious attack on Tarawa in November 1943.[65]  Amphibious warfare is a particularly complex enterprise, one in which a unit is better to have experience than be in the process of gaining it.  Furthermore, its 165th Regimental Combat Team would assault the island with altered battalions; the infantry complements were cut, but the engineers, signal troops, and headquarters reinforced.  Thus they would be going into actions with organizations significantly different than those as which they had trained.[66]

The division’s introduction to combat was not a favorable one.  It did seize Makin, but what should have been a short operation ended up taking five days.  On 24 November, the escort carrier USS Liscome Bay was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine.  Tarawa had fallen the day before,[67] and fighting continued on Makin.  This created tensions with the Navy especially, as its officers were quick to point out that had the soldiers acted more aggressively, Makin would have fallen more quickly, and the Liscome Bay would have sailed out of harm’s way before it could be attacked.[68]  This was far different than the 77th Infantry Division’s introduction to combat was a model of interservice harmony and respect, what Ronald Spector termed “almost a mutual admiration society.”[69]

The 27th Infantry Division was a part of one of the most controversial breakdowns of interservice relations of the Pacific War, the “Smith versus Smith” incident, in which Marine General Holland M. Smith relieved the Army commander of the 27th, Ralph Smith, of his command, ostensibly for lack of aggressiveness, and disobedience of orders to attack.  Marines believed that Ralph Smith and his division performed poorly, and he deserved to be fired; Army officers tended to feel that this act was rooted in Marine prejudice toward an Army general.[70]  This was hardly the happy partnership of the Marines and the 77th Infantry Division on Guam.

Even more than the superior luck of the battles that it drew, the 77th Infantry Division benefited from superior leadership at the top.  Robert Eichelberger was one of the truly outstanding commanders of the Pacific War, and he got his start at the head of the 77th Infantry Division.  In fact, his career trajectory in the Pacific War was similar to that of Omar Bradley in North Africa and Europe, with two exceptions; Bradley reached army group command, and Eichelberger had the distinct handicap of working for MacArthur and not Eisenhower.

The commander with the greatest impact on the division was Andrew Bruce.  He demonstrated aggressiveness, inventiveness, and solid leadership.  Further, from start to finish, he exhibited a laudable concern for the welfare of the troops, in keeping with Eichelberger’s example.  As for Roscoe Woodruff, the divisional history is nearly silent about him, though he oversaw the 77th through most of its stateside training.  It seems that while Eichelberger was present at the creation, and Bruce was present for combat, Woodruff was just present.  Indeed, he did not enjoy the personal success of Eichelberger or Bruce; his command of VII Corps did not last, and he was returned to the Pacific, taking over the 24th Infantry Division in November 1944, fighting in the southern Philippines until the end of the war.[71]

Finally, the 77th Infantry Division had an opportunity that others, particularly in Europe, did not.  Many operations in the Pacific could be short and intense, followed by periods of rest and recovery.  All of those fought by the 77th Infantry Division fit this description, at least until it reached the Ryukyus.  Thus it had the opportunity to integrate replacements in a more leisurely and low-stress context than trying to absorb most in the midst of combat.  There was certainly a need, especially after Okinawa; during the war the division suffered 2,140 killed and 5,737 wounded.[72]

For the 77th Infantry Division, formed as one of many draftee divisions in 1942, there was no special reason to expect an elite level of performance.  Yet leadership at the top, and a fortunate series of operations that did not inordinately stress its capabilities until the very end, enabled it to build experience, and an impressive set of skills.  The superior maturity of the enlisted personnel was a secondary factor, though this had to have come at the cost of physical abilities inferior to those of men in their late teens or early twenties.  Still, this was one of the most dependable and capable divisions of the United States Army in any theatre of World War II.  It might not have been conceived as an elite unit, but it did develop as one.

[1] “77th Infantry Division,” Center of Military History,  accessed 14 December 2013.

[2] Shelby Stanton, World War II Order of Battle (New York: Galahad Books, 1991), 144.

[3] Lt. Col. Max Myers (ed.), Ours to Hold It High: The History of the 77th Infantry Division in World War II (Nashville: The Battery Press, 2002), 7.  Reprint of 1947 divisional history.

[4] Stanton, 144.

[5] “Robert L. Eichelberger,” History of War,  accessed 14 December 2013,

[6] Ibid.

[7] Rod Paschall, “MacArthur’s Ace of Spades,” MHQ Volume 18, Number 3 (Spring 2006), 73.

[8] Ibid., 74-79.

[9] Myers, 12.

[10] Stanton, 144.

[11] Myers, 26-30.

[12] Ibid., 17.

[13] Ibid., 30.

[14] “A.D. Bruce Religion Center,” University of Houston,  accessed 16 December 2013.

[15] Myers, 13.

[16] Ibid., 21.

[17] Ibid., 2.

[18] Stanton, 4.

[19] Guy Ferrailo, The Organization of the U.S. Army: Europe, 1944-1945,” Strategy & Tactics Number 30 (January, 1972), 14-16.

[20] Philip A. Crowl, Campaign in the Marianas (Washington: Center of Military History, 1993), 39.

[21] Ronald H. Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan (New York: Vintage, 1985), 302.

[22] Myers, 60.

[23] Crowl, 314.

[24] Ibid., 346.

[25] Ibid., 351-355.

[26] Stanton, 242.

[27] Spector, 320. 

[28] Crowl, 317-318.

[29] Spector, 320.

[30] Myers, 125.

[31] Stanton, 145.

[32] M. Hamlin Cannon, Leyte: Return to the Philippines (Washington: Center of Military History, 1996), 26-27.

[33] Ibid., 37.

[34] John H. Bradley, The Second World War: Asia and the Pacific (Wayne, NJ: Avery, 1989), 190.

[35] Cannon, 62.

[36] Ibid., 72-80.

[37] Spector, 512.

[38] Cannon. 273.

[39] Ibid., 284-293.

[40] Ibid., 314.

[41] Ibid., 315.

[42] Ibid., 315.

[43] Myers, 190.

[44] Ibid., 195-197.

[45] Ibid., 209.

[46] Ibid., 211.

[47] Ibid., 225.

[48] Stanton, 145.

[49] Roy E. Appleman, James M. Burns, Russell A. Gugeler, and John Stevens, Okinawa: The Last Battle (Washington: Center of Military History, 1991), 51-56.

[50] Myers, 238-239.

[51] Appleman et. al., 149-150.

[52] Ibid., 153.

[53] Ibid., 156-160.

[54] Ibid., 170.

[55] Ibid., 182.

[56] Bradley, 240.

[57] Ibid., 240-241.

[58] Ibid., 241-242.

[59] Stanton, 145.

[60] Ibid., 145.

[61] “77th Infantry Division,” accessed 21 December 2013.

[62] Myers, 391.

[63] Ibid., 399.

[64] Ibid., 411.

[65] Stanton, 102.

[66] The Capture of Makin: 20 -24 November 1943 (Washington: Center of Military History, 1990), 20-24.

[67] Martin Russ, Line of Departure: Tarawa (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975), 187-189.

[68] Spector, 267.

[69] Ibid., 320.

[70] Crowl, 191-201.

[71] Stanton, 98-99.

[72] “77th Infantry Division ROA Wartime Casualties,” 77th Infantry Division Officers Association,”  accessed 21 December 2013.


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