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View Full Version : Time in combat for servicemen in the Pacific vs. Europe?



flyerhell
12-11-2011, 02:59 AM
Hi everyone,

I was reading an article a few weeks ago that noted that WWII servicemen actually had much less time in combat than soldiers in Vietnam because of the types of wars that they were and the different fighting styles (helicopters being used in Vietnam to bring servicemen direclty into combat zones). Thinking about this a bit more, it occured to me that men in the Pacific had much less time in combat than men in Europe. For example, it seems like between November 1944 and April 1945, Sledge didn't do much other than celebrate Christmas and train for Okinawa, while the guys in Europe were fighting that entire time. After Okinawa, he again didn't seem to do much. It seems like he was pretty safe on both Pavavu and Okinawa between campaigns. He wasn't at risk of attack.

In contrast, the men in Europe seemed like they were always marching and fighting and they could never relax - when they thought they were going to have a quiet Christmas in Dec. 1944, the Battle of the Bulge started.

The interesting part is that (I think, please correct me if I am wrong), many more troops were discharged from the Pacific campaigns rather than in Europe for mental illness. I guess it was because of the environment and different types of battles but since the men in the Pacific actually fought or were in danger for much less time than the men in Europe (not to mention, the casualty rate was much higher in Europe), that's surprising.

Am I completely missing something here? I don't mean to downplay the Pacific war at all but it is something to consider.

Rising Sun*
12-11-2011, 06:50 AM
Interesting questions and good topic.


Thinking about this a bit more, it occured to me that men in the Pacific had much less time in combat than men in Europe. For example, it seems like between November 1944 and April 1945, Sledge didn't do much other than celebrate Christmas and train for Okinawa, while the guys in Europe were fighting that entire time.

The 1st Div USMC did as much or more in the Pacific as any Allied unit in Europe.

Although Sledge wasn’t with the 1st Div at the time, I’d say that its 4 months on Guadalcanal was at least equal to any 4 months in Western Europe, and more than equal to a year in Western Europe for units which were rotated in and out of action during their year.

While Sledge's formation, being only a small part of very large USMC and US Army forces in the Pacific, was resting, war was raging in the Philippines and Burma with, in my view, greater ferocity and savagery than Western Europe.

Also, unlike Western Europe, the naval war in the Pacific was more ferocious than in Europe, although the air war, compared with the bombing campaigns against Germany, wasn't.


After Okinawa, he again didn't seem to do much. It seems like he was pretty safe on both Pavavu and Okinawa between campaigns. He wasn't at risk of attack.

I think he and his comrades had earned the rest after their opposed landings and subsequent campaigns, all of which were as bad as or worse than D-Day and following campaigns in Western Europe . I doubt that the US Army, or any other army (apart, perhaps, from the IJA, which never faced anything like the entrenched defences in depth the Allies faced in their landings against the Japanese) had formations which had done as many amphibious assaults as Sledge’s 1st Div USMC. Most had done none.

Meanwhile, plenty of other Allied land forces were fighting the Japanese.


In contrast, the men in Europe seemed like they were always marching and fighting and they could never relax - when they thought they were going to have a quiet Christmas in Dec. 1944, the Battle of the Bulge started.

The Americans certainly tended to keep their units in action longer than the British, but the average infantryman in Europe wasn’t in constant contact with the enemy during operations. The opposite could to be the case in the Pacific where intense and prolonged battles could be fought at very short distances, such as over the tennis court at Kohima.


The interesting part is that (I think, please correct me if I am wrong), many more troops were discharged from the Pacific campaigns rather than in Europe for mental illness.

Do you mean discharged from the service or evacuated from the battlefield?

For some reason the figure of 28% comes to mind as psychiatric evacuations in one (or perhaps more) of the major US amphibious landing in the Pacific.

That is relatively low compared with non-battle casualties in sustained campaigns in the disease ridden tropics. At one stage Australian troops in Papua New Guinea had a disease:battle casualty ratio around 30:1.


I guess it was because of the environment and different types of battles but since the men in the Pacific actually fought or were in danger for much less time than the men in Europe (not to mention, the casualty rate was much higher in Europe), that's surprising.

Veterans of Guadalcanal and Papua who had been in action and defeated the Japanese long before the Allies landed in Europe (Italy, September 1943) might have a different view.


What this discussion needs is some figures or research on comparative unit times in combat and casualty rates in Europe and the Pacific.

flyerhell
12-12-2011, 12:45 AM
Thanks for the replies and information! I was under the impression that, for the most part, some units in Europe were in continuous combat from June 1944 (or at least the summer of 1944) through the end of the war. I know that other units/divisions were fighting the Japanese in other places but I was thinking of it more from an individual's point of view.

Rising Sun*
12-12-2011, 04:55 AM
Thanks for the replies and information! I was under the impression that, for the most part, some units in Europe were in continuous combat from June 1944 (or at least the summer of 1944) through the end of the war. I know that other units/divisions were fighting the Japanese in other places but I was thinking of it more from an individual's point of view.

It depends upon (a) how we define 'combat' and (b) who was in the unit.

Units may have been on the line in the sense of advancing as combat units with potential for enemy contact but not necessarily engaged in combat for all or even most of their advance.

Even if the unit was on the line its composition by the end of the war in Western Europe, or even in a heavy campaign of a few weeks, could have been very different from its composition at the start as new men replaced casualties.

Assuming his figures are correct, the daily rates here http://www.schiele.us/battleInfo.asp show that there were high and low rates in US casualties in Western Europe and the Pacific.

flyerhell
12-13-2011, 12:58 AM
Thanks, that's an interesting site. You pretty much said what I was thinking - the guys in Europe, even if not in continuous combat, were still advancing and at risk of being attacked/called into combat/called to reinforce another unit. Meanwhile, Sledge's unit fights on Peleilu and goes back to Pavavu and just hangs out for a few months. Granted, the guys in Europe probably had much better living conditions than they even had on Pavavu and especially when they were in combat (I would pick fighting in France or Germany over fighting in Okinawa or especially Peleilu any day) AND part of the reason why they were taken out of combat for so long was because they just had a really hard fight but it is still something to note...especially because I think (but might be wrong) the number of discharges for mental illness was MUCH higher in the Pacific battles, than battles in Europe.

Rising Sun*
12-13-2011, 06:25 AM
(I would pick fighting in France or Germany over fighting in Okinawa or especially Peleilu any day)

Definitely.


AND part of the reason why they were taken out of combat for so long was because they just had a really hard fight but it is still something to note...especially because I think (but might be wrong) the number of discharges for mental illness was MUCH higher in the Pacific battles, than battles in Europe.

I think the only fair comparison, at least for Sledge's 1st Div USMC, would be D-Day as a comparable amphibious landing against entrenched troops.

The difference between Europe and the Pacific was that the Japanese were generally very much better entrenched in bunkers, emplacements and caves than were the Germans and determined to fight to the death, not least because on the islands the Japanese had nowhere to which to retreat.

This produced a grinding war of often very modest advances for huge losses, not unlike a short version WWI rather than the usually more fluid WWII in Western Europe. I can't recall reading anything in Western Europe that compares with Sledge's descriptions of sliding down muddy banks of buried and half-buried dead bodies which, if my memory of his book is correct, resulted on at least one occasion of a US marine or soldier becoming a psychiatric evacuee, or close to it, by the time he slid down the slope exposing and sliding through dead and decaying bodies.

The savagery of the fighting and conduct, by both sides, in the Pacific had no equal in Western Europe. It probably took men in the Pacific to depths that weren't plumbed in Western Europe, which in turn may explain the (apparently) higher psychiatric evacuation rates.

But there is another aspect, which is the recording of such things. I read a very good book a few years ago (which I might have cited in some ancient post somewhere on the forum and the tile of which I can't recall) about combat casualties in the Allied air forces flying out of England in WWII. At different stages the figures looked different because of the labels medical officers or others applied to people who felt unable to fly any more, and later the pressure applied from above to keep people flying. Patton's famous slapping of a 'battle fatigue' soldier is another example of how higher command might influence those lower down to categorise, or deal with, psychiatric casualties.

Being a bit pedantic here, but most casualties weren't psychiatric but merely psychological. Psychiatric casualties would, strictly, have severe mental illnesses such as psycotic illnesses. Psychological casualties would be soldiers who were naturally over-extended mentally by exhaustion or fear but had no mental illness. They were just average people pushed beyond their personal limits in their situation, whether that happened in the first minute of action or after years of it. A perfect example is Spike Milligan - unfortunately the internet version doesn't show him running from his gun in Italy but takes it up a bit later. http://books.google.com.au/books?id=dF9zDXmpsI0C&pg=PT34&dq=humphrey+carpenter+spike+milligan+khaki&hl=en&ei=5DXnTob9JaauiQfystTyCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

flyerhell
12-13-2011, 09:20 PM
Thanks again for the information.

RGUSMC
01-30-2012, 10:49 AM
My Dad was in 1st Mar Div WWII... Lot's of combat and much more hand to hand than the average U.S. Army. No offense to the Army. The Japanese were a different kind of enemy (more like today's terrorists) They commonly fought to the last man.