Montana’s Participation in World War II

Information highlighting some but not all, of Montana’s participation in the Second World War, or as it is known, World War II. It is provided it to you as a testament to Montana’s World War II generation, their dedication to duty and sacrifice to keep our nation free from tyranny.’

While May 8th was being celebrated as V-E day in Europe, many Montanans were fighting in the Battle of Okinawa. The Battle of Okinawa (April 1, 1945-June 22, 1945) was the last major battle of World War II, and one of the bloodiest. On April 1, 1945—Easter Sunday—the Navy’s Fifth Fleet and more than 180,000 U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps troops descended on the Pacific island of Okinawa for a final push towards Japan. The invasion was part of Operation Iceberg, a complex plan to invade and occupy the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa. Though it resulted in an Allied victory, kamikaze fighters, rainy weather and fierce fighting on land, sea and air, it led to a large death toll on both sides.

Montana’s 163rd Infantry Regiment
Montana’s 163rd Infantry Regiment, 41st Infantry Division, the Jungleers, was called to Active duty on September 16, 1940 for one year of training, and on the same day the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 introduced the first peacetime conscription (for men between 21 and 45) in United States history.
• March 11, 1941: United States President Roosevelt established the Lend Lease Act allowing Britain, China, and other allied nations to purchase military equipment and to defer payment until after the war.
• August 1941: President Roosevelt signed an extension of service of 6 months for those Americans who been called up in 1940, such as the 163rd Infantry training at Fort Lewis, Washington.
• December 7, 1941: The United States came under attack by Japanese Forces at Pearl Harbor and locations throughout the Pacific.
• December 8, 1940: The United States declared War on Japan.
• December 11, 1940: Germany and Italy declare war on the United States. The United States reciprocates and declares war on Germany and Italy.

The largest ever mobilization of American manpower continued, ultimately calling up over 15 million U.S. men and women to serve from 1941 to the end of hostilities in 1945. Over 75,000 Montanans were a part of that force.

The 163rd Infantry Regiment served with distinction on the west coast of the United States until its departure to Australia in April 1942. This Regiment served as a part of the Southwest Pacific Command going on to fight in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The 163rd Infantry Regiment was recognized as the first U.S. unit to defeat Imperial Japanese Forces in the Battle of Sanananda, Papua, New Guinea in January 1943. It was subsequently recognized by the 28th Montana Legislative Assembly by resolution and in a famous painting by Irwin ‘Shorty’ Shope in April 1943.

The 163rd Infantry Regiment served in the Pacific Theater in three major campaigns and a battle; the Papuan Campaign of 1943, winning the battles at Sananada, Gona, and Kumsi River; the New Guinea Campaign of 1944, winning the battles of Aitape, Wadke and ‘Bloody” Biak; the Southern Philippines Campaign of 1945, winning battles at Zamoanga, Sanga Sanga Island; and the Battle of Jolo and the key village of Calinan against seasoned Japanese land forces. This battle was stopped only because of the cessation of hostilities due to the dropping of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Regiment finally became an occupation force on the Japanese mainland. The 163rd was demobilized in Japan, January 1, 1946, and sent home by ships.

First Special Service Force
The First Special Service Force was a joint US-Canadian special operations force secretly formed at Fort William Henry Harrison near Helena, Montana in July 1942, to organize and train for Operation Plough. Operation Plough included plans to attach a hydro-electric target in German-held northern Norway responsible for creating heavy water for Germany’s atomic bomb. The unit went on to serve in both the Pacific theater and European theaters, with battle credits in the Aleutians, Naples –Foggia, Rome –Arno, Southern France, the Rhineland and Southern France. They were inactivated December 1944 without losing a battle and with battle casualties’ equivalent to 137 % of its strength.

Camp Rimini War Dog Reception and Training Center
Camp Rimini War Dog Reception and Training Center was established at Camp Rimini, west of Helena where it trained as a part of the effort to disrupt the Axis power. It went on to acquit itself along military air routes as search and rescue services. They provided specialized transport in remote areas of the Northern Hemisphere such as Newfoundland and in Europe during winter operations as providing transport of war materiel to our American forces.

7th Ferrying Command, Air Transport Command
The Army Air Force organized and trained bomber forces throughout Montana at such locations as Great Falls, Lewistown, and Cutbank. The 7th Ferrying Command, Air Transport Command was formed at Great Falls (Gore Hill) and at East Base (now Malmstrom AFB), Montana to carry out the mission of providing aircraft and critical supplies to our allies over the Great Circle Route, a critical part of Global War Air Operations.

Fort Missoula
Fort Missoula became an alien detention camp housing Italian sailors who had been caught up in the war from 1942 to 1943. After working with local farmers and ranchers, many of the men went on to immigrate to the United States.

Triple Nickels
Specialized units such as the African-American, segregated, 555th Parachute Battalion, known as the Triple Nickels, trained and fought forest fires throughout Montana and the Northwest.

The Home Front
The people of Montana supported the war effort in many ways on the Home Front, providing food, and other strategic supplies and minerals, meeting or exceeding the quotas for the eight War Bond Drives.

Montanans support, fought, were wounded and died in all theaters of World War II. As Joseph Howard Kinsey wrote in his book “High, Wide, and Handsome” of the more than 15 million men and women in the U.S. armed forces during “World War II, Montana furnished 75,000” to the effort. “Proportionately this was near the top of all states. In World War II, as in World War I, Montanans were quick to enlist and they were healthy; the proportion rejected because of physical defect was smaller than the national average. Montana’s death rate in World War II was only exceeded by that of New Mexico in proportion to population.”