Over the next decade, Smith held a variety of land and sea assignments. He also earned the nickname "Howlin' Mad" for his frequent explosions of temper. In Santo Domingo in 1916, Smith undertook experiments with amphibious landings. Following U.S. entry into World War I, Smith fought in France with the 5th Marine Regiment and then served as adjutant to the 4th Marine Brigade. Following postwar occupation duty in Germany, he returned to the United States in 1919.
Smith graduated from the Naval War College in 1921. An enthusiastic advocate and pioneer of amphibious warfare, in 1937 Colonel Smith became director of operations and training at Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. Here he worked to develop new tactics, landing craft, and amphibious tractors. Smith believed that amphibious warfare would be an essential element of any U.S. Pacific military operation. Smith was especially concerned about developing efficient amphibian landing craft, and he worked closely with Andrew J. Higgins on new designs. In September 1939, Smith took command of the 1st Marine Brigade. He was promoted to major general and deployed his brigade to Cuba to practice amphibious techniques. Doubled in size, his brigade became the 1st Marine Division. In June 1941, Smith assumed command of what became the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet.
Smith then headed Marine amphibious training on the west coast of the United States until June 1943, when he commanded the joint Army-Marine V Amphibious Corps in the Central Pacific. Smith's troops implemented his amphibious strategies while seizing Japanese-held islands. In November 1943, Smith's forces took the Gilbert Island atolls of Makin and Tarawa. Based on lessons learned at Tarawa, Smith urged the deployment of additional amphibious tractors and the institution of more effective landing-support techniques.
In 1944, Smith's forces seized the Marshall Islands and Mariana Islands, capturing Kwajalein and Eniwetok in the Marshalls in January and Saipan, Tinian, and Guam between June and August. On Saipan, however, Smith relieved 27th Division commander Army Major General Ralph K. Smith for not being sufficiently aggressive. This action led to sharp Marine-Army recriminations but did not prevent Smith's promotion to lieutenant general that August, when he took command of the new Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. In 1945, Smith directed the assault on Iwo Jima, the penultimate amphibious assault of the war.
In July 1945, Smith assumed command of the Marine Training and Replacement Command at Camp Pendleton, California. Smith retired from the Marines in July 1946 with promotion to full general, only the third Marine in history to reach that rank. He died in San Diego, California, on 12 January 1967.
Elizabeth D. Schafer and Spencer C. Tucker
Cooper, Norman V. A Fighting General: The Biography of General Holland M. "Howlin' Mad" Smith. Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Association, 1987.; Gailey, Harry A. Howlin' Mad vs. the Army: Conflict in Command, Saipan 1944. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1986.; Smith, Holland M. The Development of Amphibious Tactics in the U.S. Navy. Washington, DC: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1992.; Smith, Holland M., and Perry Finch. Coral and Brass. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1949.