During World War II, American troops in the Pacific Theater experienced some of the toughest combat in U.S. military history. Whether in the steamy jungles of New Guinea, Guadalcanal, or the Philippines, or on the various sun scorched atolls of the Pacific, American soldiers faced a tough adversary in the troops of the Japanese Imperial Army, who often fought with suicidal zeal in the name of their emperor. One of the U.S. Army divisions that served in the Pacific Theater was the 41st Infantry Division, nicknamed the “Sunset Division” for its shoulder sleeve insignia.
Originally constituted on 18 July 1917, the division was first organized on 18 September 1917 as the 41st Division at Camp Greene, North Carolina. The division, under the command of MG Hunter Liggett, was largely made up of National Guardsmen from the northwestern U.S., including Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Additional troops came from Guard units from the District of Columbia and draftees. The division included the 161st, 162d, 163d, and 164th Infantry Regiments, the 66th Field Artillery Brigade (146th, 147th, 148th Field Artillery Regiments and 116th Trench Mortar Battery) and various other units.
On 26 November 1917, the first elements of the 41st set sail from Hoboken, New Jersey, for France, with the last units arriving on 6 February 1918. The 41st was the fifth U.S. division to arrive in France. Upon arriving in France, however, the division was broken up and its men used as replacements for other divisions. In February 1919, the 41st arrived back in the U.S. and was demobilized on 22 February at Camp Dix, New Jersey.
The division was reorganized and federally recognized on 3 January 1930, with the division’s headquarters at Portland, Oregon. Throughout the 1930s, the 41st, under the command of MG George A. White, participated in various training maneuvers, including a series of maneuvers against the Regular Army’s 3d Division in August 1937.
As the threat of war grew more ominous in 1940, the 41st was inducted into federal service on 16 September 1940 and moved to Camp Murray, Washington, for training. The division later moved to Fort Lewis, Washington, and participated in a number of training maneuvers with IX Corps and Fourth Army.
After the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, the division was reorganized as a triangular division, losing the 161st Infantry, and redesignated the 41st Infantry Division on 17 February 1942. Elements of the 41st, now under the command of MG Horace H. Fuller, began leaving the U.S. for Australia on 19 March, with the last units arriving on 13 May. The 41st was the first complete American division sent overseas after Pearl Harbor. After training at Camp Seymour, New South Wales, the division moved to Rockhampton, Queensland, for more intensive training in jungle and amphibious warfare.
The first elements of the 41st, mainly the 163d Infantry, arrived by air in New Guinea on 27 December 1942. They entered combat on 8 January 1943 and began an attack to clear the road to Sanananda. By 22 January, the mission was accomplished, effectively closing the Papua Campaign.
During the New Guinea Campaign, units of the 41st launched operations to clear the Japanese from the northern coast of New Guinea. From 29 June to 12 September 1943, elements of the 41st, primarily the 162d Infantry, remained in contact with the enemy for seventy-six consecutive days. The jungle warfare took a heavy toll on the men of the 41st, not only in terms battle casualties. Many soldiers contracted malaria, dengue fever, and other tropical diseases. Food was scarce, and the damp tropical climate caused uniforms to literally rot off the soldiers who wore them. The 41st’s operations in the jungles of New Guinea earned the division another nickname, the “Jungleers.”
After completing the New Guinea campaign, which included assault landings at Aitape, Biak, Hollandia, Nassau Bay, and Wadke-Arare-Toem, at the end of 1944, the 41st was ordered to the Philippines. On 28 February 1945, the division’s 186th Infantry assaulted Palawan Island. The remainder of the division landed on Mindanao on 10 March and quickly captured Zamboanga City and Caldera Point before running into stiff Japanese resistance. For the rest of the war, the 41st focused on mopping up pockets of Japanese resistance throughout the southern Philippines until hostilities ended in August 1945. During the war, the 41st lost nearly 1,000 dead and over 3,500 wounded. It participated in three campaigns and ten assault landings. Also, with forty-five months away from U.S. soil, it held the distinction of having the longest overseas service of any U.S. division.
After performing occupation duty in Japan, the 41st was inactivated on 31 December 1945 at Hiro, Japan. In 1948, the division was reorganized and federally recognized as the 41st Infantry Division. In 1965, the 41st was reorganized and redesignated as the 41st Infantry Brigade. The 41st is now currently assigned to the 7th Infantry Division, one of the Army’s newly formed integrated divisions that combine active duty headquarter units with National Guard brigades.
© The Army Historical Foundation