Biography

Smith, MajGen Oliver Prince
[MGen CG 1stMD]

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Smith, MajGen Oliver P. Smith

biography

Smith, Oliver P. MajGen 1st MarDiv USMC

biography

ON 18 JULY 1950, it was D-minus 59 for the Marine reservists who would hit the beaches at Inch'ŏn. These young civilians were doubtless more interested in major league baseball standings at the moment than in hydrographic conditions at the Korean seaport they would assault within two months. Yet the proposed amphibious operation moved a long step closer to reality on the 18th when Major General Oliver P. Smith left Washington under orders to assume command of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California. A graduate of the University of California in 1916, General Smith had been commissioned a Marine second lieutenant at the age of 24 in the first World War. After serving in Guam during that conflict, he saw duty at sea and in Haiti during the early 1920’s, followed by studies at the Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia, and duty as an instructor in the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico.

In Paris, while attached administratively to the office of the U.S. Naval Attaché, he took the full two-year course at the École Superieure de Guerre, and afterwards he was an instructor for three more years at the Marine Corps Schools. He had an extensive experience of hard-fought amphibious operations during World War II as a regimental commander in the Talasea, New Britain, landing, as ADC of the 1st Marine Division at Peleliu, and as deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Tenth Army on Okinawa.

Returning with the rank of brigadier, he became Commandant of the Marine Corps Schools; and after putting up a second star, the tall, slender, white-haired general served as Assistant Commandant at Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington. At the outbreak of the Korean conflict, Major General Graves B. Erskine had commanded the 1st Marine Division. Following his assignment to a secret State Department mission in southeast Asia, General Smith was named as his relief.

General Smith decided [ on the 7th] that this flight could best be made in two echelons. The first, which took off for Japan at 1400 on 16 August 1950, General Smith stayed at Camp Pendleton for two more days until he was assured that the main body of the Division had sailed. Then he accompanied the second echelon of planners which departed by air at 1410 on 18 August:

 

  1. CG: MajGen O. P. Smith
  2. C/S: Col G. A. Williams and
  3. Cpl C. V. Irwin
  4. Aide to CG: Capt M. J. Sexton and
  5. PFC W. D. Grove
  6. G-1: Col H. S. Walseth and
  7. Cpl W. P. Minette
  8. Asst. Signal Off.: Capt A. J. Gunther and
  9. MSgt F. J. Stumpges
  10. G-4: Col F. M. McAlister
  11. Engineer Off.: Maj E. P. Moses, Jr.
  12. Embark Off.: Maj J. M. Rouse
  13. Amtrac Off.: Maj A. J. Barrett
  14. Motor trans. Off.: Maj H. W. Seeley, Jr.
  15. Ordnance Off.: Maj L. O. Williams[32]

 

The departure of the commanding general coincided with the closing of the Division CP at Camp Pendleton. There were still several thousand Marines of the rear echelon left under the control of General Noble in the sprawling installation, but the brown California hills looked down upon a scene of strange and brooding quiet as compared to the activity of the past three weeks.

Major General Oliver P. Smith commanding the 1st Marine Division.

Not so with Major General Oliver P. Smith commanding the 1st Marine Division. Smith had plenty of combat experience, commanding a regiment at Cape Gloucester, having been assistant division commander at Pelilu, and having been deputy chief of staff of the 10th Army at Okinawa. Concerned about the exposure of the 1st Marine Division, at the end of a long and tenuous supply line and away from mutual support, he moved cautiously, making every effort to keep his division closed up. He didn’t hesitate to question some corps orders and had a low opinion of Almond’s tactical abilities. The result was considerable tension between the two men, tension which undoubtedly played a significant role in the battle to come. For his part Almond, later, complained bitterly about Smith. He said: “General Smith, ever since the beginning of the Inch'ŏn landing and the preparation phase, was overly cautious of executing any order that he ever received. While he never refused to obey any order in the final analysis, he many times was over cautious and in that way, delayed the execution of some order... the Chosin Reservoir, is one of them.”

Interview LtGen Edward M. Almond by Capt. Thomas G. Ferguson 29 Mar 75. Almond Papers. MHI Carlisle.

biography

THE GENTLE WARRIOR This book is rather limited in the personal background and details about Oliver Prince Smith who began his life on a Texas ranch in 1893, lost a father at age six after which he was taken to the coast of California where he later entered the university at Berkeley. His claim to fame would eventually be Inch'ŏn/Sŏul and Chosin campaigns of the Korean War.

General Smith was a gentleman scholar who, as a young man with four years of French in school, enjoyed two years at France's war college – the Ecole de Guerre. This without doubt set him up as a thinker and planner who went on to important assignments in World War II: regimental commander in the New Britain campaign; assistant division commander of the 1st Marine Division on Peleliu, and deputy chief of staff, Headquarters Tenth Army, on Okinawa. This culminated in his Korean War assignment as commanding general of the 1st Marine Division from Camp Pendleton to April 1951.

The calm person that he turned out to be was probably due to losing a father at age six and being brought up by a resourceful mother in a home where hard work was the cornerstone to success. Some readers regret there is nothing about his youth, nor details of his time in school at Berkeley.

Although Smith's military education received a kick-start in army ROTC, the foundation was probably laid at Fort Benning's Infantry School where he associated with many future greats such as George C. Marshall, Omar Bradley, "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell, Bedell Smith, et al. It was at the Infantry School during his ten-month course in 1931 where the future leaders of the next world war were visualizing the battlefield, providing excellent background for Smith's two-year tour at the French Ecole de Guerre during 1934-36. With Hitler emerging with his plan of world conquest, Smith's training as an officer was off to a good start.

Major General Oliver Prince Smith was a quiet, austere, deeply religious Texas-born Californian. A 1916 graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, he had applied to the Marine Corps for a commission that year. There was a war in Europe, and young Oliver Smith was looking for an adventure. Perversely, he was shipped to Guam in the Pacific following his training, and the experienced man he replaced went to the war. Over succeeding decades, the scholarly officer built a reputation based upon his exceptional intelligence. He was alternately a student, a teacher, a leader of men. Still, he remained a captain for seventeen years, though he was a major for only two. As a junior lieutenant colonel, O. P. Smith commanded a rifle battalion sent to Iceland. It is significant to note that that battalion was expected to be among the first American units to fight in Europe against the Nazis, an expectation that remained unfulfilled.

Following rotation back to Washington, Colonel Smith served on the Marine Corps Plans and Policies Staff, then commanded the 5th Marines on New Britain. He was promoted brigadier general in 1944 and served as assistant commander of 1st Marine Division at Peleliu. He served at Okinawa as deputy chief of staff for 10th U.S. Army.

NOVEMBER 28                                                                                                                    143

Early in 1948, the spare, silver-haired general was named Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. Two years later, on the eve of war in Korea, probably only one step away from retirement, he was sent to San Diego to command 1st Marine Division, the only unit with which he had ever served in combat. O. P. Smith rebuilt the peace-shattered division in under a month, then sent it ashore at Inch'ŏn, commanded it at Sŏul, and oversaw its advance into North Korea.

Internment

biography

biography

Smith, Oliver P. BrigGen USMC

General Oliver P. Smith, highly decorated combat veteran of World War II and the Korean Conflict, died on 25 December 1977. He had been advanced to four-star rank on retirement, 1 September 1955, by reason of having been specially commended for heroism in combat.
General Smith was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in Korea during November and December 1950, when he led the 1st Marine Division in its epic breakout from the Chosin Reservoir area. In the face of sub-zero temperatures and the onslaught of eight Chinese Communist divisions, his division broke the enemy stranglehold and completed a fighting 70-mile march to the seaport of Hungnam in thirteen days. The general took command of the 1st Marine Division in June 1950, and after assembling it in the Far East, led it in the Inch'ŏn assault, the Inch'ŏn-Sŏul fighting, the Chosin Reservoir operation, the first UN Counter-Offensive, and the fight against the Communist China Spring Offensive of 1951. For his service in Korea, he was also awarded the Army and Navy Distinguished Services Medals, the Silver Star Medal, and the Air Medal.


During World War II, General Smith commanded the 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, for the Talasea phase of the Cape Gloucester operation in March 1944. In the fall of that year, he participated in the Peleliu campaign as Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Marine Division. For the joint Army-Marine Corps Okinawa operation in 1945, he served as Deputy Chief of Staff with the Tenth Army.


General Smith was born 26 October 1893, in Menard, Texas. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, California, where he graduated in 1916. He reported for active duty as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on 14 May 1917.


The following month he was assigned his first overseas tour at Guam, Marianas Islands, where he served with the Marine Barracks, Naval Station. In May 1919, he returned to the United States for duty with the Marine Barracks at Mare Island, California.


Ordered to sea duty in October 1921, General Smith served as Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment aboard the USS Texas until May 1924. At that time he was ordered to Marine Corps Headquarters, Washington, D.C., for duty with the personnel section.
Returning overseas in June 1928, he joined the Gendarmerie d'Haiti, Port-au-Prince, as Assistant Chief of Staff. Following his return from foreign shore duty in June 1931, he became a student at the Field Officer's Course, Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia.


Graduating in June 1932, he was ordered to duty at the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, as an instructor in the Company Officers' Course. In September 1933, he was named Assistant Operations Officer of the 7th Marine Regiment at Quantico.


General Smith sailed for France in January 1934, where he joined the staff of the American Embassy at Paris for duty with the Office of the U.S. Naval Attaché. From November 1934 to July 1936, while in Paris he studied at the Ecole Superieture de Guerre.


He returned to the United States in August 1936, and joined the staff of the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, as an instructor in the Three Section, (Operations and training). General Smith was transferred to the West Coast in July 1939, where he joined the Fleet Marine Force as Operations Officer at the Marine Corps Base, San Diego, California.
In June of the following year he became Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, and in May 1941, sailed with the Regiment for Iceland where he remained until returning to the United States in March 1942.


In May of the same year the general was ordered to Headquarters, Marine Corps, Washington, D.C., where he became Executive Officer of the Division of Plans and Policies. He remained in this capacity until January 1944, when he joined the 1st Marine Division on New Britain. There he took command of the 5th Marines and subsequently led the regiment in the Talasea phase of the Cape Gloucester operation.


In April 1944, he was named Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Marine Division and participated in operations against the Japanese in the Peleliu operation during September and October 1944.


General Smith became Marine Deputy Chief of Staff of the Tenth Army in November 1944, and participated in the Okinawa operation from April through June 1945.


In July 1945, the general returned to the United States and became Commandant of the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, and in January 1948, was named Commanding General, Marine Barracks, Quantico, in addition to his duties at the school. Three months later he became Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chief of Staff, Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, D.C.


Named Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division in June 1950, General Smith led his division through the bitter campaigns of the Korean conflict - from the late summer assault at Inch'ŏn, to the sub-zero winter drive north to the Chosin Reservoir.


In November 1950, with the 1st Marine Division surrounded and vastly outnumbered at Chosin, he directed the breakout and subsequent 70-mile march to the seaport of Hungnam.


General Smith returned to the United States in May 1951 and was assigned duties as Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, California.


In July 1953, he assumed his final duties as Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, and served in this capacity until his retirement, 1 September 1955.


His medals and decorations include:

the Distinguished Service Cross;

the Distinguished Service Medal (Navy);

the Distinguished Service Medal (Army);

the Silver Star Medal;

Legion of Merit with Combat "V" and Oak Leaf Cluster;

Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V",

the Air Medal,

the Presidential Unit Citation with three stars;

the Navy Unit Commendation;

World War I Victory Medal;

the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, Haiti, 1929-31;

American Defense Service Medal with base clasp;

European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal;

Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three stars;

World War II Victory Medal;

National Defense Medal;

Korean Service Medal with five stars;

U.N. Korean Service Medal;

Haitian Distinguished Service Medal with diploma;

the Order of the Orange Nassau,

Rank of Commander;

Korean Order of Military Merit with Silver Star;

and Korean Presidential Unit Citation with Oak Leaf Cluster.

Annotation

August 16, 1960

biography

General Smith decided [ on the 7th] that this flight could best be made in two echelons. The first, which took off for Japan at 1400 on 16 August 1950, included a group of 12 officers and six enlisted men selected to initiate planning:

  1. G-2: Col B. T. Holcomb, Jr., and TSgt W. O’Grady
  2. Asst. G-2: Maj J. G. Babashanian and Cpl J. N. Lareau
  3. G-3: Col A. L. Bowser, Jr., and Sgt G. O. Davis, Jr.
  4. Asst. G-3: LtCol F. R. Moore
  5. Asst. G-4: LtCol C. T. Hodges
  6. Asst. Emb. Off.: Capt R. E. Moody and PFC H. J. McAvinue
  7. Shore Pty. Off.: Maj J. G. Dibble
  8. Signal Off.: LtCol A. Creal and Cpl L. Shefchik
  9. Asst. G-1: LtCol B. D. Godbold
  10. Fire Sup. Coord.: LtCol D. E. Reeve and SSgt P. Richardson
  11. Naval Gunfire Off.: LtCol L. S. Fraser
  12. Air Off.: Capt W. F. Jacobs

General Smith decided [ on the 7th] that this flight could best be made in two echelons. The first, which took off for Japan at 1400 on 16 August 1950, General Smith stayed at Camp Pendleton for two more days until he was assured that the main body of the Division had sailed. Then he accompanied the second echelon of planners which departed by air at 1410 on 18 August:

  1. CG: MajGen O. P. Smith
  2. C/S: Col G. A. Williams and Cpl C. V. Irwin
  3. Aide to CG: Capt M. J. Sexton and PFC W. D. Grove
  4. G-1: Col H. S. Walseth and Cpl W. P. Minette
  5. Asst. Signal Off.: Capt A. J. Gunther and MSgt F. J. Stumpges
  6. G-4: Col F. M. McAlister
  7. Engineer Off.: Maj E. P. Moses, Jr.
  8. Embark Off.: Maj J. M. Rouse
  9. Amtrac Off.: Maj A. J. Barrett
  10. Motor trans. Off.: Maj H. W. Seeley, Jr.
  11. Ordnance Off.: Maj L. O. Williams[32]

 

The departure of the commanding general coincided with the closing of the Division CP at Camp Pendleton. There were still several thousand Marines of the rear echelon left under the control of General Noble in the sprawling installation, but the brown California hills looked down upon a scene of strange and brooding quiet as compared to the activity of the past three weeks.