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23rd (Americal) (Infantry) Division
Americal patch.svg
23rd Infantry Division shoulder sleeve insignia
Active 24 May 1942–12 December 1945
1 December 1954–10 April 1956
25 September 1967–November 1971
Country United States
Branch Regular Army
Type Infantry
Size Division
Nickname Americal
Colors Blue and White
Engagements World War II
*Guadalcanal,
*Leyte,
*Southern Philippines,
Vietnam War
*Tet Counteroffensive,
*Sanctuary Counteroffensive
Decorations Presidential Unit Citation
Distinguished Unit Citation
Valorous Unit Award
Meritorious Unit Commendation
Republic Of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation
Commanders
Notable
commanders
MG Alexander M. Patch, Jr.
(May-December 1942)
BG Edmund B. Sebree
(January-May 1943)
MG John R. Hodge
(May 1943-April 1944),
MG Robert B. McClure
(April-October 1944)
MG William H. Arnold
(November 1944 to WW II inactivation).
Insignia
Distinctive Unit Insignia AmericalDUI.svg
U.S. Infantry Divisions (1939–present)
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19th Infantry Division 24th Infantry Division

The 23rd Infantry Division, more commonly known as the Americal Division of the United States Army was formed in May 1942 on the island of New Caledonia. In the immediate emergency following Pearl Harbor, the United States had hurriedly sent three individual regiments to defend New Caledonia against a feared Japanese attack. This division was formed as one of only two un-numbered divisions to serve in the Army during World War II. After World War II the Americal Division was officially re-designated as the 23rd Infantry Division. However, it was rarely referred to as such, even on official orders. It is perhaps most famous for its role in the My Lai massacre.

At the suggestion of a subordinate, the division's commander, Major General Alexander Patch, requested that the new unit be known as the Americal Division—the name being a contraction of "American, New Caledonian Division". This was unusual, as most U.S. divisions are known by a number.

Contents

Operational history

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World War II

Combat operations summary

The 164th Infantry Regiment of the Americal Division went into action on Guadalcanal on 13 October 1942 alongside the 1st Marine Division as the first United States Army unit to conduct an offensive operation against the enemy in either the Pacific or European Theater of Operations. (Seven other U.S. Army divisions began offensive combat operations in late 1942: the 32nd and the 41st Infantry Divisions in the Pacific on New Guinea; and in North Africa, the 9th and 3rd Infantry Divisions, and the 2nd Armored Division.)

Elements of the Americal Division defended Henderson Field against heavy enemy attacks on 23-25 October 1942, and the following month took part in the offensive across the Matanikau River. In January 1943, the 132nd Infantry Regiment of the Division took Hill 27 and 31 of the Mount Austen complex. The Division later participated in offensives to sweep Guadalcanal of remaining Japanese resistance. After the last Japanese defenders were killed, captured, or evacuated from the island, the Division was relieved on 9 February 1943.

The Division next moved to the Fiji Islands, beginning 5 March 1943, to assume the defense of the main island of Viti Levu and to engage in extensive training. During the period 25 December 1943 to 12 January 1944 the Americal Division landed on Bougainville, relieving the 3rd Marine Division and was given the task of holding and extending the right half of a previously established perimeter. The Division went on the offensive in March 1944, driving the Japanese east of Mavavia River, 7-9 April, and seizing numerous strategic hill bases during the remainder of the month. Training and long-range patrol activity continued until 30 November 1944 when the Division was relieved.

On 8 January 1945, the Division began movement to Leyte and Samar, to take part in cleaning out remaining Japanese forces on those islands, and to invade Biri, Capul, Ticao, and Burias. Relieved, 13 March 1945, on Leyte, the Division landed on Cebu, 26 March, and seized the city and airfield by 28 March. Divisional combat teams made landings on Bohol, Negros, and Mindanao, where they cleared out pockets of resisting Japanese until 17 June when ordered to return to Cebu, arriving on 25 June.

Training continued on Cebu for the proposed invasion of Japan, but the Japanese surrendered on 14 August 1945. On 10 September 1945, the Americal Division landed in Japan and took part in the occupation of the Yokohama-Kawasaki-Yokosuka area.

Guadalcanal

As the "square" divisions of the Army National Guard were being transitioned to the triangular division TO&E in 1942, they each "shed" an infantry regiment, leaving several trained and operational "orphan" regiments available for independent service.

For morale purposes, the Army decided to form three of these units into a new infantry division. The "line" regiments selected were the 132nd Infantry Regiment, formerly part of the 33rd Infantry Division of the Illinois National Guard, the 164th Infantry Regiment from North Dakota, and the 182nd Infantry Regiment from Massachusetts.

Under the command of General Patch, the Americal Division was the first US Army unit to be sent to Guadalcanal, where it eventually relieved the exhausted US 1st Marine Division.

Largely because of transport constraints, the Americal arrived piecemeal, and was fed into combat alongside the battle-hardened Marines. In contrast to several other US Army divisions in the Pacific War, was able to learn the practical art of war against the Japanese without suffering as many casualties as might otherwise have occurred. Despite its ad-hoc formation, the Americal Division fought well at Guadalcanal. The 164th Regiment took part in repulsing a major Japanese offensive in October 1942, while the 132nd Regiment assaulted the highly fortified Japanese Gifu defensive complex at Mount Austen in January 1943. Historians describe the Americal Division as the most effective of all the US Army divisions in that conflict. Following the withdrawal of the 1st Marine Division, the Division continued operations on Guadalcanal as part of the U.S. XIV Corps until all of the Japanese resistance had ended.

Bougainville

Later in World War II the Americal Division (alongside the 37th Infantry Division, a Marine defense battalion, and supporting units) took up positions on the newly invaded island of Bougainville, and warned by intelligence of the storm to come, utterly defeated a massive and sustained Japanese counter-attack, which began on 7 March 1944. Despite ample warning and thorough defensive preparations, the battle soon degenerated into a bitter, close-quarters infantry affair, with artillery restricted by the need to avoid friendly troops and tanks unable to reach the scene. The 37th and Americal Divisions stood firm, and by 25 March, the Japanese were forced to retreat. It was the last Japanese ground offensive in the South Pacific.

Postwar

The Division Returned to U. S. on 21 November 1945, and was inactivated on 12 December 1945. It was reactivated on 1 December 1954 as the 23rd Infantry Division, retaining the name "Americal" as part of its official designation, and served in the Panama Canal Zone until 10 April 1956, when it was again inactivated.

Vietnam

Americal Division in Tam Ky - Armored cavalry assault vehicles with RPG-screen on front (M 113)- March 1968

The Division was reactivated in 1967 in Vietnam. A division-sized task force known as TASK FORCE OREGON was created in Quang Ngai and Quang Tin provinces with brigades from the 25th Infantry Division and 101st Airborne Division, as well as the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, an independent brigade that deployed to Vietnam in 1966, to operate in close cooperation with the 1st Marine Division. As new U.S. brigades arrived in Vietnam, they were assigned to Task Force Oregon, which was re-designated the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal). The Division was composed of the 11th, 196th, and 198th Light Infantry Brigades and divisional support units.

In spite of a large number of successful operations, the Division's history is marred by such incidents as the massacre at My Lai and the overrun of FSB Mary Ann, as well as the fact that two of its brigades, the 11th and 198th, arrived as the division was formed in 1967 without prior combat experience and inadequate unit training.

My Lai Massacre

One of the companies of the 11th LIB (C Company, 1st Battalion 20th Infantry), with 2nd Lieutenant William Calley as a platoon leader, was responsible for the My Lai Massacre, a serious war crime. Another company, part of the 196th LIB, suffered severe casualties when overrun by Vietnamese sapper units at the Battle of FSB Mary Ann in March 1971, further embarrassing the division. The aftermath of the attack resulted in the relief of the brigade and division commanders. Calley and his company commander, Capt. Ernest Medina, were prosecuted by court martial for the offenses at My Lai.

The 198th and 11th Brigades were withdrawn from Vietnam in November, 1971, and the Division was inactivated. The 196th Brigade was reconstituted as a separate brigade and remained in Vietnam until 29 June 1972, the last major combat unit to be withdrawn. Its 3rd Battalion 21st infantry was the last U.S. manuever battalion to leave Vietnam, on 23 August 1972.

Insignia

The shoulder sleeve insignia was originally approved for the Americal Division on 20 December 1943. It was redesignated for the 23d Infantry Division on 4 November 1954. On 14 December 1967 the Distinctive Unit Insignia was approved.[1]

The shoulder sleeve insignia's four white stars on a blue field are symbolic of the Southern Cross under which the organization has served. The blue color stands for infantry.[1]

On the Distinctive Unit Insignia, the blue saltire (cross of St. Andrew) alludes to New Caledonia in the Southwest Pacific where the Division was created and first activated on 27 May 1942. Each of the four white stars stands for the Southern Cross constellation on its division insignia, as well as the four World War II campaigns (Guadalcanal, Northern Solomons, Leyte and Southern Philippines) in which the Division participated. The anchor refers to the Presidential Unit Citation (Navy) awarded the Division for Guadalcanal. The red arrowhead and Philippine sun stand for the assault landing, Southern Philippines, and the award of the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation (7 October 1944 to 4 July 1945). The unsheathed sword with point to top refers to Vietnam where the Division was active. In view of the Division's origin and outstanding service in World War II and inasmuch as it was one of the few U.S. Army Divisions to bear a name instead of a number, the Division's former name "Americal" has been taken as a motto, the association with that name being both inspirational and of historical military significance.[1]

Notable members

References

  1. ^ a b c Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The Institute of Heraldry. 23d Infantry Division. Retrieved on 10 June 2009.

Further reading

  • Eric Bergerud, Touched with Fire: the Land War in the South Pacific, Penguin, 1996. ISBN 0-14-024696-7
  • Capt Cronin, Francis D. (1951). Under the Southern Cross - The Saga of the Americal Division. Washington D.C.: Combat Forces Press. ISBN 0-394-58875-4. 

External links


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