The 1st Tank Battalion was activated on 1 November 1941 at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and was attached to the 1st Marine Division. At this time, Headquarters and Service Company and Company B were organized. Company A had been in existence prior to this activation and then fell under the umbrella of 1st Tanks. Alpha was originally activated on 1 August 1940 as the 3d Tank Company. Its designation was changed to Company A, 1st Tank Battalion, on 1 May 1941. Other companies of the battalion were later activated in early 1942.
After the outbreak of World War II, the battalion embarked on an extensive training program to prepare itself for combat duty. The unit subsequently was ordered to the South Pacific and began movement to the area in the spring of 1942. Companies from the battalion were eventually deployed to Samoa and New Zealand. The first combat operation for units from the battalion was the Guadalcanal campaign. On 7 August 1942, Companies A and B took part in the 1st Marine Division's landings on the Japanese held island. Tanks from these two companies had their first major encounter with the enemy on 21 August. The next month saw tanks from the battalion supporting infantry units in the Battle of Bloody Ridge. The two companies continued to engage the enemy until the end of the year when the 1st Marine Division was relieved by the Army forces. The division was then moved to Australia in January 1943 where units of the 1st Tank Battalion were once again reunited.
That fall the battalion moved to New Guinea to begin preparations for the Cape Gloucester, New Britain operation. First Marine Division units including the 1st Tank Battalion, les Company B which remained in New Guinea, subsequently made an amphibious assault on Cape Gloucester on the day after Christmas. Battalion tanks were immediately committed to the drive to expand the beachhead; but progress was impeded, not only by the resistance of the Japanese but also by the torrential rains and the rough terrain. For the rest of the month and into early January, the Marines were in heavy contact with Japanese forces. Tanks from the battalion were continually used to support the infantry in their attacks on the enemy. As a result, numerous casualties were inflicted on the Japanese forces by 1st Tank Battalion.
Company B, which had been located on New Guinea, landed in the Arawe area of New Britain on 12 January 1944 to support Army forces there. Battalion units remained committed to the struggle for New Britain until spring. By the beginning of May, however, all elements of the 1st Tank Battalion had been withdrawn from both New Britain and New Guinea and relocated to Pavavu Island in the Russell Islands.
The assault and capture of Peleliu in the Palau Group was the next combat mission for the battalion. On 15 September 1944, it participated in the initial landing on the island. During this campaign, 1st Tank Battalion rendered conspicuous service in defeating the enemy. On the first day of the battle, battalion tanks played an important role in beating back a determined Japanese counterattack. This time the enemy spearheaded their counterattack with enemy tanks. In the encounter, the 1st Tank Battalion destroyed over 20 Japanese armored vehicles. Bitter fighting for the battalion continued for another two weeks and on 2 October 1944, Tanks was able to successfully withdraw and redeploy to the Russell Islands.
The last campaign of World War II for 1st Tank Battalion was the assault on Okinawa. Beginning on 1 April 1945, the battalion was actively engaged in wresting control of the island fortress from the Japanese. The ferocity of the fighting during the battle was shown through the statistics of 28 tanks destroyed and 163 more damaged.
The cessation of hostilities was followed by the deployment of the battalion to North China in early October for occupation duty. While stationed in Tientsin, the battalion assisted and supported the program of repatriating enemy military and civilian personnel. It also helped protect American interests, lives, and property as part of its garrison duties. In January 1947, the battalion minus Company B was relieved of its responsibilities in China and ordered to Guam. Another transfer occurred four months later. This time the unit with the exception of Company A was returned to the United States. The battalion arrived at Camp Pendleton, California on 1 May 1947, where it remained for the following three years.
Shortly after the Communist invasion of South Korea in June 1950, the battalion was ordered to prepare for a deployment to the Far East. The first element of the battalion to sail for Korea was Company A which left San Diego in July, arriving in the war zone on 2 August 1950. Upon arrival, it disembarked at the port of Pusan and immediately commenced operations against the enemy. In the meantime, the rest of the battalion began moving to the beleaguered nation. The battalion, with Company A now reattached, participated in the amphibious landing at Inchon that began on 15 September. The 1st Tank Battalion remained locked in battle with both North Korea and Chinese Communist forces for three years. Following the signing of the armistice in July 1953, the battalion stayed in Korea and once again assumed the role of a garrison force. Redeployment occurred in 1955. Company C was the first unit of the battalion to depart from Korea for Camp Pendleton in late February. A few weeks later, the rest of the battalion began relocating to its old home base. This peacetime stint lasted ten years. While at Pendleton, it was primarily occupied in training exercises and maneuvers.
The expansion of the American involvement in the war in Vietnam in early 1965 was the determining factor in the next relocation of the battalion to the Far East. The 1st Tank Battalion did not move directly to Southeast Asia but was first ordered to Okinawa. The majority of the battalion remained on the island bastion from September 1965 to the following March. Late that month, most of its elements were deployed to the Republic of Vietnam. All of the battalion's components were reunited in Vietnam during May. Upon entry into the war-torn country, the battalion was directed to support 1st Marine Division units in operations against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces. The 1st Tank Battalion remained an active combat force in Vietnam until March 1970. Beginning in the previous summer, the United States had initiated a program of withdrawing from Indo-China while de-escalating its war effort. As part of this phased reduction in troop strength, the 1st Tank Battalion was redeployed to Camp Pendleton in early spring 1970. After its return to the United States, 1st Tank Battalion embarked upon a retaining program of maintaining its combat readiness so that it could effectively respond to any future emergency.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, 1st Tank Battalion deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of I Marine Expeditionary Force. On 7 September, the battalion was fully equipped with M60A1 tanks from Maritime Preposition Squadron 3 and was deployed from Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia as the armored backbone of the multinational force which established the Desert Shield. On 13 September, Company D arrived in Saudi Arabia by amphibious ships from Okinawa where it had been on unit deployment. During the next five months the battalion provided armor units to all of the task forces established by I Marine Expeditionary Force. Besides the continuing mission of maintaining the defense of Saudi Arabia, intensive training for the pending offensive to liberate Kuwait was conducted. On 24 February 1991, 1st Tank Battalion spearheaded the assault of Task Force Papa Bear into Kuwait. Meanwhile, Company A supported Task Force Ripper. By 27 February, 1st Tank Battalion had reached the Kuwait International Airport and all Iraqi forces were destroyed. The cease-fire was established on 28 February and by April 1991, the battalion returned home to Las Flores, Camp Pendleton.
On 2 June 1992, 1st Tank Battalion moved its guidon from Las Flores, Camp Pendleton to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center located at Twentynine Palms, California. From then until present day the battalion calls the High Desert home.
Following the events on September 11, 2001 the nation’s armed forces mobilized to fight the Global War on Terror. Following the initial push to Baghdad in 2003, the Marine Corps began to transition to a different style of warfare. Individual companies and MEU platoons, vice the whole battalion, began to deploy in support of OIF. Throughout this Long War, 1st Tank Battalion continues to provide the armored combat power to Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU) and Regimental Combat Teams fighting in and rebuilding Iraq. Aside from entire line companies and platoons deploying, this battalion also supports the GWOT by sending Individual Augments to fulfill higher staffing requirements and Border, Police, and Military Transition Teams (BTT, PTT and MTT). Thus far, 1st Tanks has participated in operations such as the Battle of Fallujah, Steel Curtain, and Al Majie. Meanwhile this battalion’s companies routinely conduct Counter Insurgency (COIN) operations in order to allow the Iraqi populace to live in peace.
1st Tank Bn conducted its final deployments to Iraq in 2008, and by the end of 2009 was called upon to support Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) with company-size deployments to Afghanistan. Company C was the first to deploy to Afghanistan in early 2010 where the company conducted security operations for RCT-7. Company A followed shortly thereafter to conduct route clearance operations for I MEF as the presidential troop surge drew extra forces into the theatre of operations. Each company performed these alternative missions exceptionally well and demonstrated to OEF planners that 1st Tank Bn was an essential part of the Marine Corps’ fight in Afghanistan. Concurrently, 1st Tank Bn continued to prove its capabilities when it participated in a newly constructed Marine Corps Security Cooperation MAGTF to Eastern Europe as the Ground Combat Element of the Black Sea Rotational Force (BSRF). This mobilized Marines from across the battalion to advise and assist partner nations in all facets of military operations.
Multiple deployments during 2010 further increased the battalion’s push to get more of its Marines in the fight, which was realized when Company D deployed late in 2010 as the first tank company sent to Afghanistan by U.S. Forces. Companies B and C continued to conduct route clearance missions in 2011-2012, and Company A deployed again to Afghanistan in 2012 – this time on tanks, following in the tracks left by Company D. The battalion reached the height of its OEF deployment tempo in 2012 when it mobilized elements of H&S Company, including the command deck, and Company B for the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTMA), where they joined Companies A and C in theatre. The NTMA teams conducted Personal Security Detail (PSD) missions in and around Kabul supporting Regional Command – Capitol (RC(C)), and advised multiple levels of command within the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). This included O-6 level commands in RC(C) and Afghan National Civil Order of Police (ANCOP) brigades in volatile Helmand Province districts such as Gereshk and Nad Ali. Few units can claim at any point in their history to have so proficiently executed so many simultaneous and diverse missions in combat.
The combined exploits of our Marines throughout Afghanistan in Marjeh, Sangin, Musa Qal’eh, Now Zad, Nad Ali, Garmser and Kabul strengthened the battalion’s reputation as adaptive and aggressive, and bolstered the combat power of Marine Forces in Afghanistan to secure broader successes in the continuing fight. As 2012 draws to a close, 1st Tank Bn continues to provide forces in support of Marine Expeditionary Unit deployments, and to support OEF in multiple roles including tank companies; Afghan National Army, Police, and Border Patrol Security Force Assistance and Advisory Teams (SFAAT); and skilled individual augments for RCT and MEB staff billets.