the battle of iwo jima
February 16, 1945 D-3
The curtain went up on the Iwo Jima invasion on February 16, 1945. A fast carrier force under Admiral Mitscher steamed close to Japan and under a low, rainy ceiling launched its planes for a strike at the Tokyo and Nagoya-Kobe areas. This surprise smash destroyed several hundred enemy aircraft and spread alarm throughout the enemy homeland. After withdrawing, Mitscher's task force refueled, then sent the battleships North Carolina and Washington, and the cruisers Birmingham and Biloxi, to take part in the bombardment of Iwo which had begun the same day as the Empire strike.
Rain and heavy weather prevented Admiral Blandy from carrying out his full plan for softening up Iwo. On the first day, air strikes had to be cancelled and spotting planes were handicapped in picking out targets ashore. Ships fired, however, whenever weather permitted, and minesweeping operations were carried out to within six thousand yards of the beaches. At sunset ships withdrew from the island except for four destroyers, which remained to provide harassing fire and illumination and to prevent reinforcement of the garrison.
February 17, 1945 D-2
Air and naval bombardment of the island was resumed despite continuing bad weather, and in the face of more determined opposition from the shore. The cruiser Pensacola was crippled by six direct hits from the big coast-defense guns. The enemy was more active in the air on this day, too. In the early morning three twin-engine planes attacked the USS Halligan on picket duty 24 miles north of Iwo Jima, but she drove off the attackers, shooting down one Betty.
By late morning minesweepers had completed their sweep of the eastern beaches and underwater demolition team reconnaissance commenced. As the LCI gunboats carrying these teams moved in toward the beach, enemy fire began to concentrate on them. These tiny ships took terrific punishment. All twelve were hit and suffered heavy damage and casualties. Despite this opposition, swimmers from the Underwater Demolition Group under Navy Captain B. H. Hanlon left their six APDs and successfully carried out a search for beach obstructions and minefields. Underwater Demolition Teams 12, 13, 14 and 15, along with Captain Robert C. Reynolds and nine men from his 5th Reconnaissance Company, returned aboard ship later that day to report that the beaches were clear. General Kuribayashi, meanwhile, reported somewhat optimistically to Tokyo that he had repulsed an American landing attempt.
Now battleships, cruisers, destroyers and other fire support ships began destructive short-range fire against beach defenses. When they withdrew for the night, however, hastily developed photographs showed that the greater part of the known defense installations still remained undamaged. Orders were issued for the following day to provide heavy concentrations of fire on blockhouses, pillboxes, and other installations in the eastern beach area and on its flanks.
February 18, 1945 D-1
Troops aboard transports of the invasion fleet, using ships' radio receivers, listened to a "blow-by-blow" description of one of the greatest fights ever broadcast. They heard arial observers in spotting planes call for fire on targets below, then report their destruction. On the night of February 18, the eve of the scheduled landing, top Navy and Marine commanders pored over the latest photographs and reports. These seemed to indicate that the principal defense installations on and behind the eastern beaches and on their flanks had been either destroyed or heavily damaged. To effect this destruction, however, inland defenses had been neglected and many were untouched. During the evening Admiral Blandy informed Admiral Turner that, although weather had prevented expending the full ammunition allowance and more installations could be found and destroyed with an additional day of bombardment, he believed a successful landing could be made the next day if necessary.
It was decided after consultation among the Navy commanders responsible, that the landing would be made the next day, February 19, with H-hour at 0900. That decision was and is one of the most controversial made in the course of the Pacific war; bitter remarks have been passed as to the wisdom of landing the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions in full knowledge that most of Iwo Jima's inland defenses were intact.
The 5th Marine Division, without CT 26 in V Amphibious Corps reserve, would land on Green and Red Beaches at H-hour. The plan was for the 5th to cut off Suribachi from the rest of the island, to be dealt with separately, and would then pivot north, advancing up Iwo's long axis along the western half of the island. The 4th Marine Division would land to the 5th Marine Division's right on Yellow and Blue Beaches. The 3rd Marine Division would be brought in later from its position in floating reserve.
February 19, 1945 D-Day
The gray dawn broke over Iwo Jima at 0640 on February 19, 1945. 10,00 yards offshore were the troop carrying ships of the invasion armada. Aboard the ships, 50,000 Marines ate a breakfast of steak and eggs, then hustled topside for a look at the island. The landing force would have a lucky break in the weather. The sea was relatively smooth and surf conditions were as good as they could be. The sky was clear, visibility virtually unlimited, temperature 68 degrees, and wind 8 to 10 knots from the north.
From 0640 until 0805 ships of Admiral Rogers' Gunfire and Covering Force hurled tons of high explosives into the island. Each minute the bombardment rose in intensity until the salvos merged into a continuous dull drum beat. Gun crews of the North Carolina, Washington, New York and Texas seemed to be trying to blow the island out of the sea. Even the old Arkansas, used for years to train midshipmen, and the Nevada, which had been knocked out at Pearl Harbor and later reconditioned, added their voices to the chorus of destruction.
At 0805 the drone of airplane motors replaced the roar of naval gunfire. Ships ceased fire as 72 carrier-based fighters and dive bombers pounded the beach flanks with bombs and rockets. Behind them, 48 fighters dipped in to drop fiery Napalm, loose more rockets and strafe the landing areas. Approaching from high altitude, B-24 Liberators from Saipan peppered the island with heavy bombs. The airstrike ended at H minus 35 and the ships immediately resumed firing, concentrating on the landing beaches and their flanks.
The first waves of Marines aboard their amtacs, began to zig-zag in columns through the landing ship area. At 0830 they spread out in wave formations at the line of departure 4,000 yards offshore. Behind this wave came five waves of LVTs carrying the assault companies and a wave of tank-carrying LCMs. At H minus 15, from positions 2,000 yards offshore, warships began a rolling barrage of naval gunfire, shifting their impact areas on a prearranged schedule to conform with the movement of the ground forces. This short bombardment, in the words of a prisoner captured later, "was terrifying," but it did not cause many casualties.
Precisely at H-hour, 0900, seven battalions of the 4th and 5th Marine divisions landed abreast on the southeastern shore of Iwo Jima. On the most southerly beach, Green 1, near the base of Mt. Suribachi, Lt. Col. Jackson B. Butterfield led LT 1/28 ashore. North of Green 1, Major John W. Antonelli's LT 2/27 and Lt. Col. John A. Butler's LT 1/27 hit Red Beaches 1 and 2 respectively. Further north, the 4th Marine Division cam ashore. Amber parachute flares signaled to the command ships that the assault waves had landed. The initial waves of amtracs ground across the beaches toward the higher ground inland receiving only moderate fire. Then the amtracs slowed as they moved higher onto the beach's soft volcanic sand.
As soon as the amtracs were stopped, the troops leaped to the ground and immediately sank into the loose, ashy soil. Their forward movement became grim with every step and individual effort. The Japanese opposition to the Marine advances were light until the attack carried inland about 300 yards. Here the Marines were sprinkled, then showered and finally deluged by mortar and artillery fire from Suribachi and the north. Heavy shells soon began to pelt the entire landing area. The accuracy of this fire never varied as Japanese spotters on high ground looked down on the Marines. The loose sand offered Marines poor cover at best. Foxholes filled in almost as fast as a man could shovel. Requests for sandbags poured in from all over the front.
Moving from one shell hole to the next, troops of the leading battalions were making progress toward the western beaches of the island and the initial objective of cutting off Mt. Suribachi from the rest of the island. By 1030, LT 1/27 was passing the southern end of Airfield No. 1, a little less than halfway across the island. In the process, however, one of the Marine Corps' greatest fighters was mortally wounded. Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, who had earned the Medal of Honor at Guadalcanal with the 1st Marine Division, was leading his machine gun platoon up the slopes toward the airfield when a mortar shell killed him and four other men.
The leading companies had their orders: get across the island fast. As many Japanese installations were by-passed as possible, knocking out only those that held up the advance. Flamethrower teams and grenade-tossing riflemen killed the Japanese inside while engineer teams shattered emplacements with explosive charges. At 1115, several tanks turned up to support the attack, but they became prime targets for mortar fire which caused more casualties among the infantrymen. On the extreme south flank of the beachhead, the first wave of armored amtracs took positions near the base of Suribachi and fired into enemy positions in the mountain's side.
At 1035, men of B Company, LT 1/28 reached a point overlooking the western beaches. They had crossed Iwo Jima at its narrowest point just north of Suribachi, officially cutting off Suribachi from the rest of the island, although it took the rest of the day and bitter fighting to be sure Suribachi stayed cut off. LT 2/28 under Lt. Col. Chandler W. Johnson held a thin hastily organized line facing south toward the volcano. Marines, anxious to push through, followed a pattern - get up, stumble a few yards ahead, drop again. Everywhere shell crater conversations were the same, "We're spotted - let's get the hell outa here."
Supporting units were plagued with trouble on the beach. Amtracs, LCMs and LCVPs were hit, burned, capsized and mangled. The loose, black volcanic cinders slid past the churning tires of wheeled vehicles, miring them axle-deep. Debris piled up everywhere. Wounded men were arriving on the beach by the dozen where they were no better off than they had been at the front.
Of the 185 LVTs of the 3rd and 11th Amphibian Tractor Battalions which had brought in the assualt waves, 182 had reached the beach safely. After disembarking troops, these amtracs began their around-the-clock mission of hauling hot cargo and evacuating wounded, and sometimes giving the infantry a hand. Twenty minutes after the 3rd Battalion, 13th Marines had landed, front-line troops heard a sharp crack and high-pitched whine as the first American artillery fire passed overhead and exploded on Suribachi. The 105 howitzers were in action.
At Suribachi, lines were moved closer to the base of the mountain. Enemy fire was increasing in intensity each hour and it was hoped that more ground could be gained before the full power of the Japanese was brought to bear. By 1700, troops began to dig in for the night. The entire 5th Marine Division line was in the open in full view of the Japanese. While CT 28 faced Suribachi, CT 27 had made its pivot and was deployed facing the north. LT 3/26 tied in the 27th with the 4th Division on the east. The rest of CT 26 dug in the center of the Division's beachhead along with support and service group units.
When darkness came at 1825, the 5th Marine Division had not yet reached the full extent of its D-Day objectives. In its first 8 hours, the 5th Division suffered 904 casualties. 366 enemy dead had been counted and a beachhead 1,000 yards deep and 1,500 yards wide had been seized. After heavy fighting during the day, commanders hoped that darkness could be used to rest the men, reorganize and get casualties back aboard ship. Instead, the Japanese made several infiltration attempts and shelled the front lines and rear areas heavily.
Battleships, cruisers and destroyers fired into enemy positions all night long. Marines scurried from hole to hole with supplies and behaved with steady courage, piling up bodies of Japanese infiltrators in front of their positions throughout the night. During the early morning hours and enemy barge landed on the west coast and LT 1/28 killed 39 Japanese attempting to come ashore. The strongest enemy counterattack came at 0230 when about 500 enemy formed in front of CT 27. This counterattack was dispersed with the effective aid of artillery from the 13th Marines. The American lines had moved 4,197 miles west of Pearl Harbor to stay.
February 20, 1945 D+1
After having separated Suribachi from the rest of the island on D-Day, the problem was now how to seize the volcano with its honeycomb of defensive positions and observation posts. Until Suribachi fell, Marines would have no peace from accurate and devastating fire. The job of seizing the mountain went to the 28th Marines. Meanwhile, the rest of the 5th Division would attack to the north, toward the airfields and the main Japanese defenses. CT 27, with LT 1/26 still attached, fought its way forward and seized the part of Motoyama Airfield No. 1 in its zone of action while the 4th Marine Division on its right was overrunning the remainder. CT 26 remained in Division reserve.
The plan of attack for Suribachi sounded simple: A frontal attack, surround the base, locate a route up, then climb it! It was not much more complicated than that, but infinitely harder. Preliminary bombardment by air and naval forces had knocked out most of the coast-defense and dual-purpose guns emplaced around it and had driven the enemy deep into the mountain. But when the fire ceased, the Japanese poured out of their underground caves and remanned their positions.
The D plus 1 attack against Suribachi began with LT 3/28 on the right, LT 2/28 on the left, and LT 1/28 in reserve. As the troops moved out, it became painfully clear that this was going to be no repeat of the 800 yard advance on D-Day. In addition, they faced the severe mental hazard of the mountain itself. As days went by, Suribachi seemed to take on a life of its own, watching these men, looming over them, pressing down upon them. There were hundreds, probably thousands of eyes watching them at all times. But the men who fought against Suribachi did not fight alone. They had powerful help from Marine and Navy fighter planes that made low-level attacks against the volcano. Destroyers, rocket gunboats and artillery joined the attack with shattering force, but while destroying some emplacements, they unmasked more and more concrete structures buried in the mountain. The Marines had to destroy each of those emplacements in order to move forward.
Suribachi's caves were as formidable as its pillboxes and blockhouses. Like most enemy defenses, they had from two to five entrances with interconnecting tunnels and had been used as air raid shelters and living quarters. Some of them burrowed 50 feet below ground with steps and air shafts leading to the lowest levels of the volcano. Only split-second teamwork by every unit in the team could gain ground against such fierce resistance. Infantry and tanks brought each pillbox under fire while a flamethrower team worked up to one of its entrances. After the position had taken several bursts of flame the rest of the assault squad closed in to finish the job with grenades. Engineers and demolition teams then blasted the positions to be sure that the Japanese could not reoccupy them.
CT 28's line moved slowly toward Suribachi. The Marines had taken 200 yards from the Japanese with courage and blood. 8 officers and 158 men had been killed or wounded - 20% of the regiment's effective strength. LT 1/28, meanwhile, had spent D+1 mopping up by-passed pillboxes along the west beaches. As CT 28 was attacking Suribachi, the rest of the 5th Marine Division pivoted to the north with its left flank on the western shore of the island, on its right the 4th Division. A key terrain feature commanding the western beaches was a steep, cave-pocked cliff out of which poured a stream of fire. Artillery directed by Captain Robert H. Dunlap, who would receive the Medal of Honor, smashed the cliff defenses.
The 5th Tank Battalion, with 31 of its 50 tanks in operation, stayed in front of the infantry and brought its superior firepower to bear on the Japanese. And so with the help of the tankers, the Marines were able to seize the prized Airfield No. 1. As the assault troops moved inland, bad weather moved into the Iwo Jima area, the first evidence of it being the steadily rising surf. The sea would have been bad enough, but the enemy around Suribachi, supported by artillery in the north, were giving the beaches an unmerciful pounding. Beaches Green 1 and Red 2, and the 4th Division's Yellow and Blue Beaches were too hot for men to work on continuously, but Beach Red 1 received lighter fire and the bulk of supplies and equipment was funneled across it.
When night fell on D+1, Marines on Iwo were anchored more securely even though casualties to the entire landing force had run higher than on D-Day. Both the 4th and 5th Divisions were holding what they had gained, although some units had to make local adjustments. Marines now controlled nearly one-third of the island's eight square miles and had a two-mile-wide beachhead extending along the landing area and for 2,000 yards up the southwest coast. Motoyama Airfield No. 1 was completely in American hands, lines were well-knit and many more artillery pieces and serviceable tanks were available for support. Warships close offshore continued to pound strongpoints from which the Japanese sprayed the newly won beachhead.
As tough as D+1 had been for the men of the 5th, the night in some ways was worse. Out of Suribachi came white and amber pyrotechnic flares and along with them a double dose of artillery and mortar fire from the northern end of Iwo. American guns ashore and afloat answered this barrage, pounding the Japanese. The USS Henry A. Wiley (DM 29) closed in to 200 yards, trapped a group of counterattacking Japanese with its searchlight and opened up with every available gun on board. Ashore the 3rd Battalion, 13th Marines added their fire power to that of infantry mortars and pounded the enemy positions through the night.
February 21, 1945 D+2
In the Suribachi sector of the 28th Marines, warships and artillery ashore loosed a pre-attack bombardment on D+2, 40 fighters and dive bombers roared in and strafed with rockets and machine gun fire. Assault troops were showered with earth and debris as carrier planes swung in to within 100 yards of the front line marking panels. The only hitch was the inability of the tanks to rearm and refuel before the attack. No advances were made until they moved up. Later, with their firepower leading the way, Marines methodically began to crack the main defenses in front of Suribachi.
During the day the 28th Marines reduced each position blocking their advance, and by mid-afternoon had reached the base of Suribachi on both coasts. The only sizable counterattack was delivered by 150 Japanese who left their cover and charged LT 1/28's narrow sector along the west beaches. The few survivors were thrown back into the mountain.
The action on D+2 had cost the 28th Marines 11 officers and 185 men dead or wounded, cutting combat efficiency to about 75% of full strength. Only five C Company tanks remained in operation although maintenance crews worked feverishly to repair those knocked out. Before the operation was over they had patched 56 Shermans. On a percentage basis, every tank in the company was knocked out of the battle at least three times. Also essential to the success of the infantry were Marines from the 5th Engineer Battalion, The usual tactic in pillbox warfare requires the engineers to mop up close on the heels of the riflemen, but many of these Marines took it upon themselves to move out ahead - to blast emplacements holding up the infantry.
In the 27th Marines' sector, 12 destroyers, 2 cruisers, 68 planes and 33 howitzers battered the Japanese-held positions before troops resumed the attack. In spite of the heavy preparation, CT 27 met immediate and violent resistance from the enemy's main defensive positions - a belt of caves and concrete-and-steel emplacements a mile and a half deep and extending entirely across the island. It was later estimated that there were about 1,500 caves in the position in addition to all the pillboxes.
However, with tanks moving just ahead of the infantry, CT 27 had penetrated between 900 and 1,000 yards into the defenses by early afternoon. At this point, the roof fell in. Enemy mortar and artillery fire became so intense that nothing could move forward, not even the tanks. The advance had opened a sizeable gap between CT 27's right flank and the 4th Division, which had inched forward against bitter opposition for 100 to 250 yards.
In the command picture, General Rockey and his Division Headquarters had left the Cecil at 1330 and come ashore, where they consolidated with General Hermle's ADC command post. That evening CT 26 moved north from its reserve position and prepared to relieve the 27th Marines. For the 27th Marines, 37 officers and 534 men had been killed or wounded during the third day's fighting, raising the Division total to more than 2,000. Casualties throughout the entire landing force during the first 58 hours ashore exceeded 5,300. (Tarawa's figure was just over 3,000 for 72 hours.)
At dusk the enemy launched his strongest air attack of the campaign against ships at Iwo Jima. About 50 Bettys and Zekes, coming in from all directions, hit the fleet and caused heavy damage. Four Kamikaze planes plunged into the carrier Saratoga during the three-hour attack, and Marines ashore could see the flashes of explosions as the badly damaged "Sara" limped out to sea. Antiaircraft guns threw an umbrella of fire over the beachhead as enemy planes approached the island. Marines huddled in their holes, straining to hear the warning scream of falling bombs - a warning that never came as Japanese pilots set their sights on the outer ring of American warships. The Bismarck Sea, Lunga Point, Keokuk and LST 477 all were bombed by Japanese aircraft. The Bismarck Sea was set afire and sunk. 347 men and all of its planes were lost.
The Japanese, taking advantage of the commotion, counterattacked along the 5th's entire northern front for six hours. In spite of almost constant illumination by parachute flares and heavy artillery fire, LT 1/27 on the left flank, was hit and hit hard by an estimated 800 Japanese who were turned back only after the fight had come to close quarters. Even so, many enemy troops filtered into the rear areas and had to be mopped up at first light on D+3.
In the 28th Marines sector that night, the Japanese again sent up flares from Suribachi. Now, however, their cohorts in the north, hard-pressed by the 4th Division and the remainder of the 5th, were able to send only sporadic mortar and artillery fire into the southern area. About midnight three enemy swimmers, attempting to come ashore on the west beaches, were killed.
February 22, 1945 D+3
The 28th Marines continued the attack on D+3, still with three landing teams abreast. By mid-morning 2/28 on the left and 1/28 on the right were moving around the base of the volcano, while demolition and flame thrower teams moved with them and continued to turn enemy fortifications into charred rubble. Unfortunately, close-in fighting and narrow corridors made effective use of tanks and artillery impossible. Operations throughout the day were hampered by bad weather and poor visibility. A hard, soaking rain came down to mix the volcanic dust into a glue-like mess that fouled up automatic weapons to the point where Marines had to fire them single shot. Even so, it was apparent that the defenders of Suribachi were beginning to crack. During the day a language officer took a loud speaker into the front lines and urged the Japanese to surrender. Shortly afterward the men below could see several of Suribachi's defenders leap to their deaths from the crater's lip.
As the advance continued, NCOs were taking over everywhere for wounded officers. This was the sort of battle that brought out the best a man had in him, kept him fighting as long as he could, sometimes even longer. Some men had so keyed themselves up, had so dissociated mind from body that they could drive themselves beyond their normal limits of endurance. Some men performed fantastic feats. One Marine, charging a pillbox, was met by a saber-swinging Japanese lieutenant. This Leatherneck grabbed the sword with his bare hands, then cut off the officer's head with it. Another Marine stormed a blockhouse and killed ten Japanese inside before he died.
By late afternoon on D+3, the 28th Marines had surrounded Suribachi except for 400 yards on the west coast, and, although the casualty rate dropped for the first time, had lost 5 officers and 101 men in the process, many of them key personnel. A mortar shell landing in the command post had cut down Lieutenant Commander Daniel McCarthy, the regimental surgeon, and several other irreplaceable specialists.
Rain, mortar fire, and infiltrating Japanese all kept the tired, drenched 28th Marines on edge throughout the night as Colonel Liversedge and his staff planned for the final knockout blow against Suribachi. "At dawn," the Colonel said, "we start climbing."
In the 26th and 27th Marines sector, D+3 was more miserable than the three days which preceded it. The cold, heavy rain coated Marines and weapons alike. D+3 was a morning of change in troop dispositions. Colonel Graham's 26th Marines, with 2/27 attached, passed through CT 27 and continued the attack to the northeast, following the western contour of the island. On its right CT 21, of the 3rd Marine Division, wedged into the line between the 5th and 4th Divisions, this being permitted by the widening of the island.
The 5th Division zone of action lay between the terrace fringing the western beaches and a hundred foot high, almost sheer bluff, which ran northeast-southwest down the west center of the island and curved west across the 5th Division's front near Airfield No. 2. The high land above the bluff gave the Japanese perfect observation into the Division zone and allowed them to oppose any advance from both the front and right flank.
In spite of the difficulty of the situation, the 26th Marines initial attack carried forward for 400 yards, but the 3rd Division's attack along the bluff itself stalled, leaving the 5th Division troops in an untenable position. They were being hammered by fire from the front, right flank, and right rear and were finally forced to withdraw to an area around their original line of departure. Even though it was apparent that the seizure of the high ground was the key to the situation, Corps headquarters continued to order the 5th Division to attack on succeeding days in the hope that flanking fire from its units might help the 3rd Division to advance and crack the stalemate permanently. Such was not to be the case, however, for quite some time.
The entire Division front was now well within the enemy's main line of resistance, a net of defenses so tightly woven as to prohibit any maneuver and restrict the fighting to costly frontal assault, assault as bloody as any in Marine Corps history.
Back on the beaches, back in the areas inland cleared of Japanese, necessary work was going on. On D+3 the site for the 5th Division cemetery was selected, and the Marines and sailors assigned to bury the dead began their task although even they were forced to work under fire and to clear mines.
Shore parties, trying to keep up with the demand for supplies brought on by the rain and by the bitter action at the front, were near exhaustion. Even though plans for Division dumps had not been abandoned, the requirements of the combat teams made it necessary for beach units to continue to deliver supplies direct to the front, work they had not enough manpower to do, but did anyhow.
The casualty situation was also threatening to get out of hand. Fewer and fewer small boats were reaching the beaches through the heavy surf , which meant that fewer and fewer casualties were reaching hospital ships. That might not have been critical, but rain, cold, and darkness were making evacuation stations nearly inoperative. Finally, LST 807, converted into a hospital ship for the operation, came in through the surf and beached. All during the night of D+3 doctors operated in the wardroom and the crew turned to care for the wounded. Of the 200 casualties treated aboard ship, only two died.
February 23, 1945 D+4
Early on D+4, four men from LT 2/28's F Company started to scale the gutted slopes of Suribachi. The patrol leader, Sergeant Sherman Watson, kept reporting as he went along that the Japanese still were holed up. Lieutenant Colonel Johnson made a decision. He threw together a 40 man combat patrol, remnants of the 3rd Platoon of E Company and a handful of men from battalion headquarters, and put in command Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier, the E Company executive officer. "If you reach the top," Johnson told him, "secure and hold it. And take this along." "This" was an American flag which Lieutenant George G. Wells, the battalion adjutent, had brought ashore in his map case from the transport USS Missoula.
The patrol filed through reeking battle debris and basted gunpits and started up the northern face of Suribachi, sometimes walking, sometimes crawling on hands and knees as the slope became steeper. Higher and higher the patrol picked its way, avoiding heavily mined trails and keeping men out on the flanks to protect the main body from ambush. "Those guys," observed a Marine below, "ought to be getting flight pay." As the men neared the top they spread out around the rim of the crater. Schrier signalled. The patrol charged over the top and met - nothing, nothing but a deep lava pit. Suribachi had fallen!
One Marine ran up with a piece of hollow pipe. On it went the 54 x 28 inch flag. At 1035, while Sergeant Louis Lowery, a Leatherneck Magazine photographer, photographed the event, Lieutenant Schrier, Platoon Sergeant Ernest "Boots" Thomas, Sergeant Henry "Hank" Hanson, Corporal Charles Lindberg, and Private First Class James Michaels raised the colors. Photo evidence would later reveal that Pharmacist's Mate Second Class John "Doc" Bradley was also involved with raising the first flag over Suribachi.
Hovering over a nearby cave, 16-year-old Private First Class James Robeson refused to be included in the picture. "Hollywood Marines," he snorted, and watched intently for a crack at anyone who might object to the flag-raising. Several did. An enraged Japanese soldier hiding nearby pitched a grenade at the flag party and another charged, brandishing a Samurai sword. Both died quickly.
On the beachhead below, thousands of Marines saw the tiny flag, but for every cheer that went up, a hundred got only as far as a tight, lumpy throat. Most Marines simply stood silently watching the volcano, and they went on about whatever they had been doing. Four hours later, when the original flag was replaced with a larger one, Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press shot the scene without realizing he had just taken the most celebrated photo of World War II.
The flag was on Suribachi to stay; no one doubted that. Neither did anyone doubt that there was hard fighting still ahead - the volcano was still crawling with Japanese. Schrier walked over to the men whose picture had just been taken. "We haven't time to waste around here," he said, "let's get back to work." Even as Schrier made the remark, one company below was battling more than 200 Japanese in a honeycomb of caves partly hidden by the tangled underbrush. At 1130, elements of LT 1/28 met patrols of LT 2/28 on the southern tip of the island. CT 28's objective was reported taken except for mopping up. Generals Smith and Rockey and Admiral Turner sent their congratulations. Engineers and infantrymen spent the rest of D+4 blowing and sealing caves.
In the 26th and 27th Marines sector, D+4 saw another abortive attack to seize the 0-2 Line, including Airfield No. 2. Elements of CT 26 hacked out gains of 200 yards, but again had to pull back to the line of departure when CT 21 of the 3rd Division was unable to move down the bluff. The supply situation was becoming more difficult each hour. Critical shortages in demolitions and mortar ammunition developed; even though enemy fire on the beaches had slackened, the flow of supplies to the front diminished as men who had worked since D-Day almost without rest found themselves unable to keep up the pace. The 3rd and 11th Amphibian Tractor Battalions, ferrying supplies to the beach, were running short of vehicles. The 3rd had lost 26 amtracs: 18 sunk in the surf, 4 swamped on the beach, 1 blown up by a mine and 3 hit by shells. In spite of their losses the 11th and 3rd between them had brought in about 1,300 tons of supplies by D+2 and were still working.
February 24, 1945 D+5
During one pre-dawn breakthrough on D+5, the LT 1/28 command post and aid station were assaulted by 30 grenade-throwing Japanese. Battalion headquarters personnel, including Corpsmen, grabbed weapons and killed the attackers, successfully protecting their patients who lay on stretchers in the midst of the fight. In the 28th Marines sector, over a hundred Japanese were killed as mopping up continued throughout D+5, many of them trapped as they tried to filter through the lines with demolitions tied to their bodies, apparently heading for Marine artillery.
Taking Suribachi had cost the 28th Marines 904 casualties. Coincidentally, this was the exact number of casualties for the entire 5th Marine Division on D-Day. Of these, 7 officers and 202 men had been killed. On the other side, 1,231 enemy dead had been counted, hundreds more were sealed inside caves and blockhouses, and more than a thousand enemy emplacements of all kinds had been destroyed.
Working with the infantry, engineers had destroyed 165 concrete pillboxes and blockhouses, some with walls 10 feet thick, had blasted 15 strong bunkers and naval gun positions; had destroyed thousands of shells, grenades and land mines; and had sealed 200 caves, some of them three stories high with heavy steel doors. In addition, these supporting troops evacuated hundreds of wounded Marines and bulldozed 1,500 yards of roads and tank paths around the crater.
In the 26th and 27th Marines sector, the 5th Division attack and Corps attack had now been stalled completely for two days. Finally the Corps commander decided to mass all his available shock weapons in one sector and try to achieve a breakthrough. On D+5 the tanks of all three divisions were massed under the 5th Division tank commander, Lieutenant Colonel Collins, and thrown against the strong enemy positions just north of Airfield No. 1. Before the tanks moved out, all the supporting weapons available to Corps–artillery, air, naval gunfire, and rockets–were turned loose in a smashing barrage that churned the area into a mass of smoke, dust and flying debris. The tanks moved out behind this fire and, although they hit mines and rough terrain, finally forced a passage along the taxi strip between Airfields 1 and 2, along the edge of the bluff.
The advance was made only at a heavy cost. Heavy antitank fire and mines continued to harass and disable the armored spearhead. Company A lost six out of ten tanks and made no advance, but other units kept chewing away at the heavily defended area and by early afternoon had spearheaded CT 21's advance as far as the southern edge of Airfield No. 2's east-west runway, and advance that pulled them abreast of CT 26 and erased the enemy's deep bulge in Marine lines.
As soon as CT 21 had to some extent consolidated its gains, another barrage came down as all the Marine artillery on Iwo Jima massed fire on the same targets while planes, rocket-launching units, and warships added their power to the preparation. Under this cover, CT 26 hacked out a 500-yard advance, but paid dearly for it as 21 officers and 332 men were killed or wounded during the day's fighting. Marines carrying special equipment were prime targets, especially men carrying flamethrowers or radios with antennas raised.
As the 2nd and 3rd Battalions pushed ahead, LT 2/27, still on the left flank, moved into the broken, rocky ground north of the western beaches, making good headway until the lead elements came to a sandy, open valley dotted with grass-covered pillboxes and blockhouses. The Marines charged across 200 yards of open ground–straight into a trap. Within minutes, 40 men from F Company had been hit as the Japanese saturated the barren ground with fire from machine guns, pillboxes, and tanks dug down to hull defilade. Company E joined the attack and immediately lost 16 men in a mortar barrage. Finally a platoon of tanks blasted through to the far side of the valley allowing the infantry to withdraw to more tenable positions. The battered men brought what casualties they could with them on improvised poncho litters, but stretcher bearers worked until 2200 that night to clear the area of dead and wounded.
Back on the beaches the supply situation had eased enough to permit the establishment of division dumps and the 5th Marine Division quartermaster relieved the shore party of supply distribution. The Corps shore party took command of all beaches, provided three beach companies to the Division to tally cargo, and began to furnish tractors, bulldozers, cranes and motor transport. The Division quartermaster section received an ammunition company and a dump company, and a depot company was ordered to the Division cemetery.
The capture of Suribachi stopped a great deal of the fire on Green Beach and as the front lines moved north the fire on the other beaches gradually died down and stopped. A few LCMs came into the beach between D+4 and D+6, but surf conditions were still so bad that cargo unloading was almost impossible except from the much larger LSMs and LSTs. Ashore, however, a web of roads began to spread across the island and steel traction matting covered the exits inland from the beach. The critical phase of the supply operation was over.
Corps headquarters and Major General Erskine's 3rd Division headquarters were both set up ashore on D+5, and the 3rd Division got ready to take over the entire center of the Corps line between the 4th and 5th Divisions.
February 25, 1945 D+6
Corps took control of CT 28 on D+6. Colonel Liversedge's men remained in reserve in the Suribachi area for five days picking off Japanese who dug themselves out of caves, salvaging arms and equipment, and training new replacements. Intelligence observers and artillery spotters soon turned the volcano into a vital observation post. This 554-foot OP overlooked all of southern and central Iwo Jima and proved extremely advantageous to the landing force and correspondingly hurtful to the Japanese who now were denied its use. Marines atop Suribachi, looking to the north, could see the flash and dust of battle. Few realized what it held for them.
In the 26th and 27th Marines sector, every advance or attempt to advance in the last 3 days had been met by heavy fire from the bluff line on its right, and Corps now decided that the 5th Division would not attack for the 0-2 Line again until the 3rd Division had seized the ground well ahead of the 5th's right battalion. On D+6, even though the 3rd Division's 9th Marines gained nearly 400 yards along the bluff, the Japanese positions flanking the 5th Division zone had not been neutralized and the 5th, for the first time since D-Day, did not attack. This was a signal for a field day on maintenance, reorganization, and resupply. Tanks, weapons, personal gear all got a thorough going over, and troops got in some needed work on Division installations.
Company C, 5th Medical Battalion, landed during the lull in the fighting and began work on the Division hospital where demolition teams cleared the area of duds, and bulldozers scooped out underground wards and operating rooms. Engineers blasted the cave-infested sulphur blowhole, continued to install water distillation units and enlarged the Division cemetery.
The 13th Marines continued to shell northern Iwo Jima as air observers called in adjustments. The D+6 score for the big howitzers was three blasted enemy artillery pieces, several burning trucks, a blazing ammunition dump, and two demolished houses.
One week to the day after the first waves of Marines stormed ashore on Iwo, a Marine OY-1 observation plane landed on the strip of Airfield No. 1. As the tiny plane came to a halt many Marines rushed out to congratulate the pilot. But just then three quick enemy mortar bursts hit on the strip and sent the welcoming committee scurrying for cover. Three days later, Lieutenant Roy G. Miller and the rest of his VMO-5 landed to provide aerial observation and spotting for Division artillery.
February 26, 1945 D+7
The 26th Marines, after a day of comparative rest, launched a new attack on D+7 to take the 0-2 Line in spite of the fact that the 3rd Division had not yet secured the bluff line on the right. Although infantrymen and tanks pressed the attack vigorously and skillfully, the attack gained about 50 yards on both flanks and was stopped cold in the center of the line. At this critical point, F Company of 2/26, the only rifle company in the Division that had not seen front-line action, was committed and promptly drove forward for 250 yards. This assault was also supported by tanks which helped the infantry mightily but, as usual, acted as magnets for Japanese artillery and mortar fire.
As CT 26's drive penetrated farther into the Japanese main line of resistance, groups of enemy soldiers, evidently forced above ground in order to move to new positions, could be seen moving around in the open, and event extremely rare in the Iwo Jima campaign. This spectacle brought about a definite improvement in Marine morale, for no man likes to fight something he cannot see, and the sight of running Japanese was very reassuring.
On the right of CT 26's line, LT 3/26 pushed forward a hundred yards, slightly reduced enemy fire and advances in the 3rd Division zone contributing toward making its advance easier and its position more secure. Tanks which took part in this attack probed into the Japanese lines and hit a jackpot–about 500 Japanese preparing rice for their evening meal. The tank crews opened up with every gun they had, causing heavy casualties and dispersing those Japanese who were still able to leave under their own power.
On the left of the Division line, still guiding on the western shore of Iwo, LT 2/27 opened their D+7 attack after the 13th Marines and warships standing offshore had raked the area in front of them with fire. Company D, on the right of the battalion line, and Company E, moving along the cliff that bordered the western beaches, drove forward 500 yards in two hours as LVT(A)s offshore pounded the cliffs in front of the LT's advancing troops with 75mm gunfire. By noon, D Company was deep into the Japanese lines, leading the advance of the entire Division. At this point, however, 2/27 was stopped until LT 2/26 on its right could pull up abreast, and when it became apparent that no further advance could be made that day the position was consolidated with D Company still in front, and E and F Companies holding the line along the Division's left flank–the beach terraces–and tying in with LT 1/26 in the rear.
During the day, heavy artillery fired at fortified Japanese positions in the northern part of the island, and half-tracks sniped at Kama and Kangoku Rocks, two tide-washed lava shelves off the western beaches where swimmers had been observing for Japanese artillery. During the evening, just as the lines were being adjusted for the night, one counterattack was broken up before it got started as artillery and mortars ranged in on a formation of 300 Japanese massing in front of LT 2/26.
February 27, 1945 D+8
The 27th Marines moved up at dawn of D+8 and took over the 5th Marine Division sector from the 26th Marines, lining up with 2/27 on the left (west), 1/27 in the center and 3/27 on the right (east). The 26th Marines, less 1/26, which had been used steadily to plug gaps in the line, moved into Division reserve. After a heavy artillery and naval gunfire preparation, the 27th Marines moved into the attack and immediately ran into some of the heaviest fighting any Marine unit had hit on Iwo Jima.
In the center of the line, 1/27 quickly pushed forward about 200 yards, and then hit a heavily defended cluster of pillboxes. A half-track got one before its crew was in turn picked off by rifle fire. Support from 37mm guns was out of the question–there were no suitable positions for the guns to fire from–and so the task fell where it usually did–on the infantry. Company C moved up with flamethrowers and demolitions and by noon had reduced the positions and moved on. In the middle of the afternoon the company ran up against another fortified area, but the story was different here–tanks were available and the infantry, supported by their fire, made much shorter work of the emplacements.
Company A too had been having its troubles. Driving ahead, it had occupied the top of the rocky ridge and occupied it with ominously little effort. Before the company could consolidate, it was hit by heavy fire–rifles, machine guns, grenades and mortars–from its flanks and rear. Marines along the top of the ridge were trapped and cut off by fire from hidden emplacements, caves, and spider holes along the flanks and base of the ridge. The 1st Platoon was all but disintegrated in the first blast of fire.
Finally, the company pulled back, bringing its wounded off the ridge as it came. Altogether, the action had cost Company A 8 killed and 50 wounded by the time Company B moved up from battalion reserve to take its place. The ridge was plastered by artillery that night; the next morning Marines who retook it found a wounded man there from the attack the day before, passed by unnoticed during the withdrawal. Not a single shell fragment had touched him.
On the right of the Division line, 3/27 moved rapidly against a ridge guarding the approach to Hill 362, a key to the defenses in northern Iwo. Company G charged the ridge in a frontal assault and was thrown back. Finally, as other elements of the company moved up, the ridge was held. Company I, to the left of G, moved into the jagged, rock-strewn ground of northern Iwo, where the fighting reached such intensity that men ignored wounds in their determination to get at the enemy–to destroy him. At the end of the day, the 27th Marines had gained about 500 yards through the heart of the Japanese defensive belt. Still ahead was the bloodiest fight of all–the battle for Hill 362.
In the fighting on D+8 and the battle still ahead, there was really more than one war. There was fighting on the front lines, such as they were, and the fighting to clear out the Japanese from previously captured ground into which they had moved through their labyrinth of tunnels. There was almost always mopping up to be done before the day's attack could begin. The Japanese were also mining everything in sight–and doing surprisingly well. Roads into the northern half of the island were thick with mines, some standard and some improvised, and Marine-built roads, if not carefully guarded, were invariably re-mined during the night by infiltrating Japanese.
The battle for Iwo Jima was also characterized by the Japanese use of much heavier mortars than the Marines and Army had encountered in earlier Pacific campaigns. The grenade launcher (knee mortar) and the infantry 81mm and 90mm mortars were still around, and the Japanese were also using 150mm mortars and a few 320s. One novel feature of the early days of the Iwo campaign was the Imperial Japanese version of a buzz bomb, which Marines promptly dubbed "freight train" because of the weird, chugging noise the projectile made as it passed overhead. The trouble was that the Japanese had some difficulty with range adjustment and usually missed the island completely. One rocket did hit Green Beach and several hit Suribachi, but none caused any great damage. Marine observers soon spotted the launching platforms, and artillery and air strikes destroyed them. The "freight trains" stopped running after D+9.
February 28, 1945 D+9
On D+9 the 5th Marine Division was squarely up against Hill 362, the highest point on the western side of the island and the backbone of the Japanese defense in this sector. Its sharp, barren edges were chopped up with caves, and concrete pillboxes and blockhouses dotted its nearly vertical cliffs. Around its base, jagged, rocky outcrops commanded every approach to the hill, and the hill itself commanded all approaches to the 0-3 Line, the Division's next objective.
The initial assignment to take Hill 362 went to 3/27, while 1/27 attacked a jagged, irregular ridge line running more or less from Hill 362 down to the western beaches. In the teeth of heavy fire, Marines opened the attack across some 200 yards of bare, rolling, sandy ground, and elements of I Company, on the left, worked their way to the top of the hill. Here, however, they were cut off from units below as the Japanese counterattacked behind a heavy barrage of grenades. The company commander, Captain Philip R. Gary, was mortally wounded, and Lieutenant Kenneth S. Nelson took command, reorganized his men, and pulled the company back about 200 yards on the slope of the hill.
While this action was taking place, H Company, attacking on the right of the battalion line, was taken under heavy and accurate rifle fire. In three minutes, 12 men had fallen–11 of them shot through the head. The Japanese topped off this assault with one of the heaviest grenade barrages of the campaign. In the face of this barrage, Corpsmen worked against terrible odds.
1/27, on the left (west) of the 3rd Battalion, moved against the ridge line west of Hill 362 and was immediately taken under fire from the front and from pillboxes on the left flank along the western beaches. A half-track, and finally tanks, were brought into the battle and had nearly destroyed the position in front of C Company by the time Company A came up to relieve it in the afternoon. Company A, comparatively fresh, moved out against light opposition and had picked up about 150 yards when it was hit by fire from a gorge on its right flank. This position yielded quickly–although not easily– when attacked by several Marine platoons, one of which flanked the Japanese from the rear.
Company B, on the right of the 1st Battalion line, was also having a hard go against machine guns firing from the ridge to its front, but finally worked its way onto the ridge, losing 17 dead and 27 wounded in the process. Altogether, D+9 would not have seemed to be a particularly productive day. Marine losses had been heavy (in the entire Division casualties had now reached 4,000), but there was now some indication that the Japanese resources in men and material had been stretched to the breaking point, and that a breakthrough of sorts might soon be achieved.
Division equipment losses had also been heavy. 8 of the armored amtracs had been destroyed, 90 out of 216 LVTs were out of action, and only 38 out of 100 DUKWs were still serviceable. To add to the difficulty, the Division ammunition dump was shelled and set afire during the night of D+9. 30% of the Division's ammunition was lost, but by dawn service troops and Headquarters and Service Battery of the 13th Marines had brought the fire under control, in spite of the fact that Japanese planes were over the island during the night.
March 1, 1945 D+10
On D+10, the 28th Marines came north from Suribachi and took over the assault against Hill 362 and its supporting positions from the 27th Marines. An early morning attack by the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 28th Marines carried the crest of the hill, but the Marines on top found themselves staring over the brink of an 80 foot cliff into a rocky draw. Securing the reverse slope of Hill 362 was going to be rougher than the attack against the forward slope. The draw which the 28th had to clear ran parallel to the ridge line, and was bisected by an antitank ditch that ran perpendicular to the hill. Covering the ditch were strong positions in the cliff face, inaccessible from the top.
In an effort to break the stalemate, Company A moved around the right shoulder of Hill 362 and into the draw while B Company made a similar move to the left. Almost immediately Company A was hit by grenades and rifle fire and its company commander, Captain Aaron G. Wilkins was killed. Company B's CO, Captain Robert A. Wilson, was wounded leading his prong of the attack. It soon became apparent that the advance was stalled, at least temporarily, and the troops dug in for the night.
The first Japanese prisoners–Korean labor troops–had been captured that day, and they reported that caves ahead of the Marine lines were filled with enemy wounded and that food and water were running low. Not all of the 12 prisoners seized by the Division up to D+10 had been taken willingly, however. One enemy soldier, his skin scorched by a flamethrower, had been brought to the Division hospital for treatment. Although he was well treated, he persisted in getting up from his stretcher. As Corporal Lonnie E. Nolan tried to escort him back, the prisoner turned, gave a shrill scream, and attacked the Marine guard. Nolan parried his blows and then grappled with him, but the crazed prisoner broke away and raced into a ward where Marine wounded were lying. As he attacked a defenseless casualty, Nolan pumped five bullets into his body.
March 2, 1945 D+11
With the 5th Division embroiled in the battle for Hill 362 along the 0-2 Line, the 3rd Division, still on the right of the 5th, drove rapidly northeast across Iwo's third (still uncompleted) airfield and then swung directly east. This maneuver opened a gap between the two divisions, and General Rockey ordered the 26th Marines into the line on the right of the 28th Marines.
The 28th Marines opened the D+11 attack against the reverse slope positions on Hill 362. Riflemen covered as an armored dozer cut a path through the antitank ditch which ran perpendicular to the hill, enabling a platoon of Shermans to get through. As the tanks blasted positions in the reverse slope of Hill 362, E Company of 2/28 charged across the open area and gained the next ridge line where they held on, even though they were hit by fire from both front and rear. Among those killed during the afternoon was Lieutenant Colonel Chandler Johnson, the battalion commander, who was succeeded in command by Major Thomas B. Pearce, Jr., his executive officer.
On the right, the 26th Marines were committed during the afternoon and advanced as far as the island's northern plateau, where the troops dug in for the night. During the night, about 50 enemy tried to infiltrate the lines near Hill 362, and some of them made it. General Kuribayashi, discouraged over the failure of his soldiers to cut through Marine lines at night, radioed Tokyo: "The look-out American forces has become very strict and it is difficult to pass through their guarded line. Don't overestimate the value of cutting-in (infiltration) attacks."
March 3, 1945 D+12
D+12 was a memorable day for the 5th Division. It was one of the biggest ground-gaining periods of the operation, the first B-29 made a successful emergency landing on Iwo, and three 5th Division Marines performed feats of valor which won them the Medal of Honor. The terrain as well as the Japanese opposed the attack. A series of ridges and gorges lay in the path of the 28th Marines while the ground ahead of the 26th Marines was heavily mined and the enemy on Hill 362B ahead were able to sweep the area with fire. And, as usual, new roads had to be built before tanks could move in to support the attack.
Once dozers had pushed these roads through, the 26th Marines, supported by tanks, attacked in the right center of the Division line in one of the most successful but most costly actions of the operation. Company F advanced more than 600 yards to the high ground to its front, won a fierce grande duel and then held its positions in spite of heavy casualties. Companies D and E, using flamethrowers, bazookas, and demolitions, blasted through a series of caves and pillboxes to seize and hold Hill 362B.
During the 28th Marines attack, Corporal Charles J. Berry and Private First Class William R. Caddy performed identical feats of valor at the cost of their lives, and were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Caddy, a rifleman in I Company, 3/26, and Berry, a machine gunner attached to 1/26, saved the lives of several of their comrades by deliberately absorbing with their own bodies the blast of grenades thrown into the groups. The night before, Sergeant William G. Harrell awoke to find an attack swirling around him. He opened fire with his carbine and killed two of the enemy, but an exploding grenade tore off his left hand and fractured his thigh. Crippled, he continued to wage a fierce lone battle with the attackers. A saber-wielding Japanese soldier rushed his foxhole and inflicted a deep, slashing wound. Harrell killed him with his pistol. After ordering a wounded companion to safety, the exhausted, blood-soaked Marine met the challenge of two more enemy soldiers who charged him and dropped a grenade near his hand. Harrell killed one with his pistol and then grasped the sputtering grenade with his good right hand, pushing it painfully toward the other enemy soldier who crouched nearby to deliver the death blow. Harrell saw his assailant destroyed, but his remaining hand was severed in the explosion. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.
The 28th Marines, attacking on the left of the 26th Marines, met with varying success. 1/28, C Company spearheading the attack, gained 500 yards while the other two battalions, supported by tanks, 37mm guns, and half-tracks, gained about 150 yards in heavy fighting. Captain Jack R. Rhodes, B Company's fifth commander since the landing, was wounded six minutes after he took over the unit. All along the front, casualties were reaching crippling proportions, and weapons-company and headquarters men were sent into the lines as riflemen to fill in the ranks of the assault companies.
As the attack moved north, Marines found fewer concrete emplacements and more caves. Although the Japanese had lost much of their artillery, heavy mortars, and rocket launchers, captured or destroyed, the mass of troops and automatic weapons at their disposal as they were compressed into less and less space compensated somewhat for the loss. General Kuribayashi continued to use his troops intelligently, with an eye to inflicting the heaviest possible casualties on the attacking Marines. At a stage in the battle when many Japanese commanders would have been exhorting their troops to futile Banzai charges, the General continued to use his reserves to back up only his most desperately threatened positions. There is evidence that Kuribayashi recognized the superiority of American weapons, for he urged his superiors in Tokyo to copy the Garand rifle and the BAR.
March 4, 1945 D+13
The two tired regiments, after a night of heading off infiltrating Japanese, the 26th Marines alone killed 97, attacked again on D+13 against a front swept by machine gun and rifle fire from a new line of caves and tangled underbrush. The attack was sluggish and the Japanese seemed to sense it, two or three times forming groups of 200 or 300 for counterattacks which were promptly broken up by artillery and mortar fire.
Some units pushed forward in more or less uncoordinated fashion and were promptly hit on the flanks by fire and forced to withdraw, leaving the net gain for the day at zero. The only successful move, in fact, was made by Division Headquarters which moved from its original location near the eastern beaches to a position north of Airfield No. 1 on the west side of the island.
Behind the lines, replacements trudged single file up the road, staring silently at the tired, bearded Marines coming back. Here and there among the replacements were men wearing blue dungarees and shirts of the Navy, Marines returning from hospital ships after being wounded earlier in the operation.
March 5, 1945 D+14
General Schmidt, the Corps commander, realized that his three divisions were exhausted from two weeks of steady fighting and ordered that no attack be made on D+14. Troops all along the front reorganized, assigned replacements, improved positions, cleared mines, bulldozed new routes for tanks, and made other preparations for resuming the attack. Newly won high ground in the north made observation posts on Suribachi obsolete, and artillery observers and "flash-bang" units moved to new positions near the assault units.
Although there was no attack going on, the Division continued to suffer casualties. Lieutenant Colonel Butler, 1/27's commander, was killed by an artillery shell. At the front, it was difficult if not impossible to distinguish rank. Officers wore no insignia on their issue dungarees and carried the same arms as enlisted Marines. In one instance, a telephone man crawled along checking communications between units when he saw another Marine sitting on the wire. "Hey you," he demanded, "Get the hell off that line. Can't you see I'm trying to check it?" A lieutenant colonel who commanded the battalion in that area stood up and stepped aside. "All right, lad," he said with a chuckle, "but just between you and me, I'm getting damned tired of taking orders from privates."
Two weeks after the landing, air-mail service to Iwo Jima was in operation. The first mail had arrived by ship on D+5 followed by another batch five days later. ON D+8, V-mail processing began and most of the letters written on Iwo were this type. The most prolific writers on the island were the combat correspondents attached to the Public Information Section. Newspapers from all over America printed their eyewitness accounts of the fighting and their interviews with hundreds of 5th Division Marines. During the campaign, one correspondent, Sergeant Henry Weaver, asked a veteran Paramarine how the fighting compared with that on Bougainville. The trooper gazed off into space and then replied: "Bougainville?... Beautiful Bougainville!"
The western beaches had been developed by this time and were used for discharging ammunition and supplies, and although most of the transports and freighters had been unloaded and had left the area, the island was still ringed by American warships whose guns continued to support units ashore. Several times during darkness, LCI mortar gunboats dropped thousands of rounds ahead of the front lines, and night-firing destroyers lobbed star shells to help troops spot enemy infiltrations and groups forming for counterattacks. Before the operation was over, more than a thousand naval gunfire missions had been called down in the 5th Division area and over 64,000 rounds of ammunition fired.
During this brief lull in the fighting, base development of Iwo, including airfield construction, was transferred to the island commander, Major General James E. Chaney. Airfield No. 1's runway was being lengthened from 4,000 to 5,000 feet, and a bomb-disposal company was clearing Airfield No. 2 of mines and duds. Transport planes were now operating regularly from No. 1. Five days earlier the first American fighter plane had landed and was soon joined by 28 P-51 Mustangs and 12 P-61 Black Widow night fighters, all of which were eventually used for combat air patrol over the island. The 17 Cub planes from VMO squadrons were flying daily artillery spotting and observation missions.
The 5th Division hospital was now handling nearly 300 casualties daily, and a staff of 16 doctors and 150 Corpsmen from the 5th Medical Battalion worked around the clock. Wounded men, some of them quiet under morphine, filled the dug-in hospital tents and awaited their turn in the busy operating rooms. Many Marines were unable to tell where their wounds were or what had hit them. Outside the hospital, the procession of jeep ambulances from the front was never-ending. Men wounded in the north saw the southern part of Iwo for the first time in many days, and those who could get there went to see the airfields which they remembered as pitted open spaces raked by enemy fire. Air evacuation of the seriously wounded to Guam began, and before the campaign ended, 2,358 wounded had been flown out in the big planes.
Chaplains, who made their headquarters at the regimental command posts, found that their greatest usefulness was near the front close to battalion aid stations. Formal services were limited to those few times battalions were brought out of the lines into rest areas, but many men welcomed Scripture reading and prayer with the chaplains in their foxholes. Moving around the front, Father Bradley (28th Marines) said Mass daily for every company in the regiment. His alter was the largest foxhole in the area. Father Bradley never wore a helmet; back in camp the men had gotten used to seeing him in a baseball cap, and he wanted to be sure they would recognize him under several layers of sand and dust.
To the south even Suribachi's face began to change as the 31st Construction Battalion built a road to the summit. Below in a prisoner stockade one Japanese officer wept. "For twenty years," he said, "we tried to make a road to the top and you did it in two weeks!"
Communications had improved steadily since the early days of the campaign and, as continuous telephone contact between all units was established, field radio stations began to close down and many operators and message center men joined wire teams. Telephone men installed and repaired lines at all hours of the day and night, pushing ahead with the assault companies, extending their wire to allow immediate contact between command posts and the front lines. They were shot at often, mistaken for the enemy at night, and killed many enemy who attempted to interfere with their work.
A Division bakery was set up and raised sagging spirits by delivering rolls and doughnuts to the troops. Another factor which helped morale was the operation of the Red Cross. In the regiments they took charge of the distribution of post exchange rations and provided additional items such as towels, soap, candy, cards and stationery from Red Cross supplies.
March 6, 1945 D+15
An artillery preparation that took in every unit in Corps artillery opened the D+15 attack. The 13th Marines alone fired 6,200 75mm and 105mm shells and the 12th (3rd Division) and the 14th Marines (4th Division) blasted the Japanese position at a comparable rate. At K-hour the barrage began to roll forward a hundred yards every 7 minutes, but any hope that the troops–their objective the 0-3 Line–could hold this rate of advance soon faded. The day's attack netted the 5th Division between 50 and 100 yards in the center and on the right, and gained exactly nothing in the 28th Marines' zone on the left. Resistance was bitter, and the Division took about 200 casualties during the day.
The jagged, broken country into which the 5th Division now moved minimized the effect of the powerful supporting fire available to the Marines, and left the issue to be decided in the highly personal struggle of Marine against Japanese, with the Japanese fighting from prepared, concealed positions. To make matters more difficult, Japanese in by-passed caves fired into the back of Marine formations with platoon and squad leaders as primary targets.
The 27th Marines, in action on the right of the Division line, hit a particularly chopped-up area just north of the enemy's third (uncompleted) airfield. Major Antonelli's 2/27 had heavy going, and used bazookas, flame-throwing tanks, and demolitions to try to pry the enemy loose from his positions, without success. The battalion lost more than half of the Division's 200 casualties for the day, 14 killed and 101 wounded, many of them cut down during desperate efforts to evacuate casualties who were finally taken out under the protection of covering fire and smoke screens. The terrain was too rough for tanks to operate effectively, and dozers brought up to punch through roads for them were slowed and often disabled by mines when they or the tanks ventured into areas not cleared by engineers.
Credit for one of the few successes achieved by the 5th Division troops during D+15 goes to Captain Kyle Gillispie, air observer from the 27th Marines, who was flying over Japanese territory when he spotted an entire enemy artillery battalion moving cautiously along a partly open tunnel leading from one large cave to another. Checking the position on his map, he radioed his information back to headquarters, and within minutes Marine artillery had opened fire, registered, and destroyed the entire Japanese unit and its equipment.
March 7, 1945 D+16
D+16 brought all three regiments more success in terms of ground gained than had the attack of the day before. 3/28 pushed forward 600 yards through rocky gorges against moderate small arms and machine gun fire, leaving some caves and bunkers for elements following along behind to mop up. By dusk all three battalions of the 28th Marines were on Hill 215, which dominated the immediate area, and were mopping up. In this drive, the Division Reconnaissance Company was attached to 3/28 and saw heavy fighting in the drive for the objective. Earlier it had distinguished itself in the pre-landing reconnaissance off the landing beaches.
As the 28th Marines were consolidating, a stiff breeze began blowing toward Marine lines from the Japanese-held area, bringing with it eye-smarting sulphur fumes and the smoke from a burning enemy ammunition dump. Unit commanders, always alert to the possibility of the enemy's employing poison gas, sounded an alert which brought hundreds of gas masks into use. The alarm soon passed, however, and the 28th Marines went on with their reorganizing.
The 27th Marines made limited gains during the day against an irregular ridge line, sometimes called Nishi Ridge, in the vicinity of Nishi Village. This was one of the strongest remaining defensive positions on the island. 2/27 advanced 200 yards to reach this high ground overlooking the north coast of Iwo, but after getting a blood bath from grenades, knee mortars and sniper fire from high jagged rocks, the troops were forced to withdraw when 2/21 of the 3rd Division retired on their right flank. 3/27, meanwhile, had driven 500 yards against light resistance.
The 26th Marines had launched a pre-dawn surprise attack in the center to reduce a strong pocket of resistance. By late morning these defenses had been smashed and the 3rd Battalion moved on, but reined up after a 150 yard gain to help tanks and half tracks destroy a cluster of caves and pillboxes. Later Company H, 3/26 and Company A, 1/26 continued the northward advance against resistance no heavier than an occasional shot from a sniper's rifle. Finally, H Company came up against a 30 foot ridge which appeared to be suspiciously quiet. Men began to feel that they were being watched, and tension grew as everyone sensed that something was wrong.
Then they saw it–a smaller dune concealed an entrance to a cave. This position obviously was an important Japanese command post–how important the Marines soon found out as Japanese came charging out to fill the air with grenades. Company H settled down to a duel and Japanese bodies began to pile up. Meanwhile, men of Company A had maneuvered around the ridge and had set up machine guns facing the rear entrance to the cave. As demolitions men blasted shut the front side, Company A pumped fire into trapped enemy who attempted to escape through the rear. Soon the cave appeared to be empty and the demolition squad sealed the second entrance. 30 Marines scaled the ridge and gazed at the ground over which they would have to fight later in the day.
Suddenly the earth began to tremble. The scarred hill quivered violently in a rising crescendo ending in an explosion which could be heard all over Iwo Jima. The entire ridge and the Marines on it were blown high into the air. Men nearby were stunned by the concussion. As soon as they regained their senses and realized that the Japanese had blown up the position they ran for the hill, shouting for their comrades. As the first arrivals started to dig frantically, others followed and soon Marines were pulling charred, broken bodies to the surface. Some of the toughest men could not stand the sight and began to vomit. Others, tears running down their faces, stumbled away from the scene. The ridge was a mass of twisted, torn, burning rock and sand. Smoke rose from a ragged hole so large that a good-sized apartment house could have been slipped inside. 43 casualties resulted from this action.
That night the Japanese made repeated attempts to infiltrate the American lines. Several of their patrols stumbled into trip flares and "good hunting" reports flowed back to higher headquarters. Along the front artillery forward observer parties joined with the infantry in beating off the Japanese.
March 8, 1945 D+17
The 5th Division on D+17 was directed by Corps to make its main effort on the right and seize the remainder of Iwo Jima in its zone. The same order went to the 3rd and 4th Divisions, both of which broke through to the northern coast. In the 5th Division zone, however, General Kuribayashi had marshalled his forces for a last stand, and the end result of the Corps maneuver was the formation of a pocket in front of the 5th Division.
In its attack, the 27th Marines were faced with a series of inter-connected caves and tunnels with the area around them heavily mined. The strongest barriers were in front of 2/27 where both the reverse and forward slopes of the rocky ledges were heavily defended. The challenge was met by bulldozing roads into enemy territory and then moving in to blast and overrun defenses so that the infantry could advance. Hard hand-to-hand fighting ground out 150 yards in this right flank sector.
The 26th Marines' center attack gained little ground. 1/26, which had been in the front lines 16 days and 17 nights, had gained about 40 yards but that night gave up the ground as untenable. The 28th Marines, on the left, had met moderate resistance during a 300 yard advance. Rocket launching crews, supporting the 5th Division attack, blasted the enemy in their holes and buried them where they fought. Tanks bumped through the rough, heavily mined terrain, their 75mm guns pounding pillboxes from point-blank range while infantrymen followed close behind. Demolitions men ran from cave to cave sealing them shut with explosive charges.
D+17 brought a new idea for killing Japanese. Sergeant Paul S. Poznar and his artillery crew brought a 75mm howitzer into the front lines and raised havoc with the enemy at 100 yard range. Although every shell had to be carried by hand for 400 yards, Poznar and his Marines blasted 180 rounds into pillboxes, caves and enemy mortar positions. Another gun crew, led by Sergeant Paul E. Bohrer, broke down their 1,600 pound howitzer into seven parts, carried it forward, and sited it for direct fire. This field piece knocked out every enemy position in a 300 yard wide sector. By this time the 1st Battalion, 13th Marines, had fired 37,000 rounds of artillery at the Japanese, and the 12 howitzers of the 2nd Battalion had sent more than 22,000 shells into northern Iwo.
Marine losses were becoming so heavy that all infantry units were in critical need of replacements. Qualified small unit leaders and aggressive, highly trained riflemen had become so few that offensive efficiency and spirit were seriously affected. Provisional platoons of headquarters personnel were formed, and companies rushed up cooks, bakers, mortarmen, and communicators to fill gaps along the thinly held front. 200 men from the 13th Marines were designated infantry replacements and reported to the 26th and 28th Marines. The shore party regiment was disbanded and the 5th Pioneer Battalion prepared to move to the front.
The campaign had developed into a battle of attrition against Japanese positions. Each cave had to be blown and each pillbox destroyed, and there were many of both. Marines began to find snipers dressed in Marines uniforms, and soon were not sure who was going to shoot at them. The enemy, too, began to booby-trap his dead. Everywhere the Japanese fought until they died. One case was typical: A flamethrower team moved cautiously up to a pillbox and spurted a jet of flame through the entrance. An enemy soldier burst through the opening, his flesh and clothing a mass of flame. In each hand was a grenade. Even as he threw them, he fell into a lifeless, charred heap.
One of the strongest enemy night attacks of the campaign was launched the night of D+17 against the 4th Division. It was a desperate attempt to break through to Airfield No. 1 to destroy planes and installations. The charge carried through the lines into command post areas but was finally turned back with a loss of 784 enemy troops. When this effort was shattered, the Japanese settled down to a last stand defense.
March 9, 1945 D+18
On D+18 the attack began on Japanese positions in the western half of the island and north of Nishi Village. This was the main Japanese pocket and remained so to the end of the campaign. There were other pockets in the 3rd and 4th Division zones, but these were cleaned out quickly. The Japanese in the pocket facing the 5th Division never retreated and fought to the end.
During the attack of D+18 and D+19, the 28th Marines gained about 400 yards and came within sight of a deep gorge to its front, while the battered 26th Marines, with less than a hundred officers left, waited for the 28th Marines to come abreast. When it did so, the 26th Marines jumped off but made only small gains against cave positions in the jagged ravines, losing about 215 men in the process. Since it had come into the lines 10 days before, the 26th Marines had gained nearly 1,000 yards across the rough northern plateau. The 27th Marines on the right had gained about 250 yards, aided by headquarters men who had been put into the lines. Although it received 215 replacements, the 26th took that many casualties and made only small gains against concealed cave positions in the rugged ravines.
Furious hand-to-hand battles raged all along this unit's front. Company C, leading the 1st Battalion attack, moved 200 yards, lost contact, and had to pull back for protection as it was hit by heavy frontal and flanking fire. 8 died and 14 were wounded in an advance that had gained nothing, and only two Marines remained in the 1st Platoon. Determined to force a breakthrough, Platoon Sergeant Joseph R. Julian quickly established his platoon's guns in supporting positions. Then, acting on his own initiative, he moved forward alone against the nearest pillbox, and threw demolitions and white phosphorus grenades into it, killing two of the enemy and driving the remaining five out into the adjoining trench system. Seizing a discarded rifle, Julian jumped into the trench and dispatched the five before they could escape. Intent on wiping out all resistance he went back, picked up more explosives and, now accompanied by another Marine, again charged the fortifications and knocked out two more cave positions. Then he opened fire on the one remaining pillbox with a bazooka, pumped four rounds into it and completely destroyed it before he was mortally wounded by a burst of enemy fire. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Private First Class James D. LaBelle, a member of the Weapons Company, 27th Marines, also won the Medal of Honor at the cost of his life. LaBelle was filling a gap in the front lines when a grenade landed in his foxhole. He shouted a warning to his companions and dived on the grenade, absorbing the charge and saving the other Marines from injury.
On D+18 Lieutenant Colonel Duryea, commanding 1/27, was badly wounded by an exploding land mine and Major William R. Tumbleston, his executive officer, took command. The same blast caught 2/27's Major Antonelli and three of his officers while they conferred in the front lines. Although he was suffering from the effects of the blast, foreign particles of some kind imbedded in one eye, and a broken eardrum, Antonelli continued his reconnaissance of the front and refused to be evacuated until he had issued orders for resumption of the attack.
March 10, 1945 D+19
During the night of D+19 in the 27th Marines sector, they were fired upon with machine guns and a large explosion resulted. This indicated that the enemy may have been carrying demolition charges. Small enemy engagements were reported during the night in which 16 enemy dead resulted. The enemy's major defense continued to be made with small arms and mortar fire from caves and crevices. The use of heavy Japanese mortars was very limited. This was the first day in which no Japanese artillery fire was reported. Snipers continued to operate at very short ranges and their fire proved to be deadly
The 28th Marines were ordered by Division to continue the attack at 0800. The attack began with 2/28 on the left and 1/28 on the right with 3/28 continuing in Corps reserve. The ridge line about 200 yards to the front was the first objective for the day. Progress, as usual, was painfully slow. 1/28 was able to get part of the way up on the ridge line in the center, but was forced to withdraw slightly because it was receiving fire from both flanks. 2/28 met a considerable pocket of enemy resistance on its left. The pocket was finally overcome and 2/28 moved forward and was able to tie in with 1/28 on the right. The total advance for the day was 150 yards on the left and 75 yards on the right. On D+19, 100 artillerymen were received from the 13th Marines and sent to 3/28 as infantry replacements.
The war was getting very close to General Kuribayashi. He complained to Tokyo that several hundred infantrymen with tanks were attacking nearby and that bombing and machine gun firing against his command post was so fierce that he could not express himself. "Before American forces landed on Iwo Jima," the Japanese general continued, "there were many trees around my headquarters, but now there is not even a wisp of grass remaining. The surface of the earth has changed completely and we can see numerous holes of bombardment."
March 11, 1945 D+20
In the hope that troops might overrun the last Japanese positions behind the shock of heavy fire, every artillery battalion on the island massed fire on the pocket on D+20. In all, 10,000 rounds of artillery poured into these positions, and elements of the Division jumped off against this fortress only to be hit hard and stopped. Again the terrain had nullified the effects of the artillery fire.
An hour later, the 5th Division, with two regiments abreast, joined the attack. The 28th Marines, all battalions on line, drove for the ridge line which overlooked the gorge across its front, but two attacks netted 30 yards and 143 officers and men killed or wounded. Om the right, the 27th Marines with 1/26 attached, made 200 yards and continued its methodical destruction of cave positions but lost a battalion in the process. 2/27 was worn out, casualty-ridden, and no longer employable as a front line battalion. It had to be pulled out and was not used in attack again during the campaign.
3/27 had drawn the day's toughest assignment–the capture of high ground on which the enemy had once had radar installations, since destroyed. Land mines threatened each forward step and made it impossible for tanks to lead or even follow infantry. Company G, heading a frontal assault, was doused by a shower of exploding knee-mortar shells, but still drove to the top of the hill only to be met by scores of grenade-throwing Japanese and literally blown off the high ground. The Marines fought back with mortars, and two 60mms arched hundreds of shells into the enemy positions on the hill. Again G Company attacked the deadly sugarloaf to the front, and again fell back before knee-mortars and grenades. Then Private First Class Norman L. Smith and Corporal Walther S. Yancy inched their way to the top. Spotting a ravine crammed full of Japanese mortarmen, they sent word back to their own mortar crews. Several hundred more shells rained down into the ravine.
The third assault drew no enemy fire at all and brought the 3rd Battalion to the top of the hill to stay. Marines now held the highest ground in the area and from it could see Kitano Point (Iwo's northernmost point) clearly. Company I of 3/27, which had spent the day blowing caves and pillboxes, dug in for the night with three platoons in line and its command post behind the center platoon. After dark, supposedly cleared caves began to disgorge Japanese who plagued the weary Marines all night. Machine guns could not stop the infiltration, nor could rifles or grenades. The enemy bored through and hit the command post section, which fought back with carbines. After a bitter, confused scrap in the dark, company headquarters "retreated" into the front lines. Half of the unit's machine guns were turned around and the Marines fought in both directions at once. At daybreak, 20 enemy dead lay behind the lines and 19 out in front.
March 12, 1945 D+21
The Division's D+21 attack met with heavy resistance all along the front. The 28th Marines continued to reduce Japanese positions, but there was not a great deal of ground gained, in spite of the fact that every available supporting weapon including 37mm guns, tanks, half-tracks, and rockets were brought into play. Japanese faded from position to position to escape knockout blows, and nowhere did there appear to be a shortage of enemy weapons or men to man them. Occasionally the Japanese crowded Marine lines to get out from under artillery fire, and these close-in troops all but annihilated two machine gun squads of 3/28 and turned the guns against the Marines.
The 27th Marines on the right, working behind tanks and flame-throwing tanks gained about 200 yards and knocked out 18 pillboxes. While this was going on, artillery and planes continued to blast the enemy's rear positions where they could do the most good. One plane dropped a 500 pound bomb into a cave entrance, and created a violent explosion that jetted smoke from other cave entrances 300 yards away. At noon the 3rd Division reported that organized resistance in its zone had ended, but the 4th Division was still chewing at a pocket of its own without much luck.
March 13, 1945 D+22
The ridge line on northern Iwo ran from the center of the island west to the sea, and the eastern half of the island was to all intents and purposes secure, all of which invited a flank attack toward the sea. On D+22 Division ordered the 27th Marines to wheel to the west and attack down the corridors while the 28th Marines continued their northern attack. The attack, starting in the morning, made good progress. Company B, 1/27, paced by tanks, had picked up about 300 yards by noon and had moved into flat country when heavy fire came down on it from the sides of a gorge and the advance stopped. 2/27's Company H also moved into comparatively level ground and picked up 75 yards through a gully which had stopped its men the day before.
In front of the 28th Marines, the Japanese still manned the long ridge which had stopped the Marines before. The south (near) slope was gradual but cut up by small draws that ran parallel to the ridge line, and the crest bristled with pillboxes and spider holes. The north (reverse) slope, between 40 and 70 feet high, was pocked with caves.
At this point, Headquarters decided to try out a new weapon, the 7.2 inch rocket designed to be fired in battery from the backs of tanks. There had not been time to mount them before the operation, and ordnance men had now mounted them on sleds which tanks towed to concealed positions near the front and facing a strong enemy pocket. The launching crews fired about 100 projectiles in two minutes, and these churned the target area into a mass of flame, smoke and rubble so fearsome that observers felt every Japanese in it must surely have been killed. Not so. When the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 28th Marines followed up the barrage with an assault they were hit and stopped by heavy fire from Japanese positions which had felt the full force of the rockets' impact. General Rockey later remarked ruefully, "It was all noise and no damage."
Later in the day, 2/28 skirted a pocket of resistance and gained 100 yards as D Company fought its way to the ridge line overlooking the gorge. Company D was now a company in name only, having been reduced, along with most companies in the combat team, to the size of a rifle platoon, and any further attack in the immediate area was suspended. Among the casualties in the last attack had been Private First Class George B. Mercer, last remaining man of the original four who had scaled Mt. Suribachi, and Lieutenant Byron E. Fisher, who was killed by a sniper as he led his platoon over the crest of the ridge. Fisher had been one of the combat team's most gallant platoon leaders.
The Japanese contrived to shoot down one of VMO-5's planes during the afternoon of D+22, the first that had been destroyed. It fell 200 yards inside the Japanese lines and both the pilot and observer were lost. The Japanese usually fired at single planes over their lines, although they seldom fired when the planes flew in groups. Of the five Division air observers, two were killed and one was wounded, and the five among them flew 113 missions over the Japanese lines and logged 318 hours in the air.
March 14, 1945 D+23
Enemy resistance was light on March 14, and it became evident that the Japanese had little left but machine guns, knee mortars, grenades and rifles. The 26th Marines took over the center line, bringing all three regiments abreast again. The 28th Marines held their positions on the south side of the rocky gorge, and the 27th Marines along with the 26th's right elements gained up to 600 yards. 3/26 launched a daylight attack which gained steadily after armored dozers had hacked out paths in front of the lines so that much needed armor could move. Battered 2/26, averaging 70 men per company, picked up 400 yards.
During this attack Private Franklin E. Sigler won the Medal of Honor for gallantry at the risk of his life. He had voluntarily taken command of a rifle squad when the squad leader was hit, and moved out ahead of his squad to charge an enemy gun which had held up his company. Attacking with grenades he wiped out the emplacement and killed the crew, but was almost immediately taken under fire from emplacements above him. He scaled the rocks which hid these emplacements, and made a furious one-man attack in which he was severely wounded. He got back to his squad, but refused to be evacuated and directed heavy machine gun and rocket barrages on the cave entrances, meanwhile carrying three Marine casualties to safety in spite of his own painful wounds. He was finally ordered to the rear.
On the right of the Division line, Companies A and C of 1/27 gained between 200 to 300 yards. During the engagement, Lieutenant William H. Van Beest, the last original officer in C Company, was killed and Major Tumbleston, the battalion commander, was badly wounded and evacuated. Major William H. Kennedy, 3rd Battalion operations officer, took command of 1st Battalion.
On the far right of the Division line, 3/27 moved ahead 600 yards and enabled the combat team to shorten its lines by 300 yards. All along the 5th Division zone, close air support and naval gunfire had to be secured. The front lines were so irregular, the area remaining to be captured so small, and the terrain so broken that fire from tanks and halftracks replaced artillery for daylight close support.
March 15, 1945 D+24
D+24 saw advances of up to 600 yards, advances that put the 27th Marines on ground that commanded the rest of the island in its zone. Early in the attack the 2nd Battalion had launched an abortive attack, stopped as much by fatigue as enemy fire. Major Rea, however, reorganized his men and, moving well to the front, led the battalion in an attack that finally overran much of the high ground the combat team took that day. The next day, the battalion was relieved; its fighting on Iwo Jima was over.
3/26 finally reached the mouth of the gorge that had stalled the 28th Marines, the gorge where the enemy was thickest and where the last battle would be fought. Its companies could not be resupplied or evacuate their wounded during the day, but they found that they could do both successfully after dark, and held their ground.
That the Division still moved forward at all was a credit to the med and their leaders, but the fearful strain of days in the line was showing up in every unit. Men were getting careless, exposing themselves to fire when they were tired. Many of the men now were replacements, men who fought gallantly and brought credit to themselves and the Division, but who were not as highly trained as the Division's original men had been and for that reason probably took slightly heavier losses.
Division, however, made every effort to keep up morale. The wounded were taken out and the dead buried as rapidly as possible. Baked goods and fruit juices went to the forward units every day, as did mail and copies of The Spearhead, the paper put out by the Division G-2 section. New clothing issues went forward, and free cigarettes, candy and toilet articles were distributed every day in the lines, while the Red Cross took care of toilet article issues to the wounded. Engineers tapped a sulphur rock well for hot showers, and as many men as could be spared were sent back to the beaches to swim in the surf. Nevertheless, Iwo Jima remained an unclean, evil little island, an island that these men would never forget, however much they would have liked to.
March 16, 1945 D+25
Elements of the 3rd Marine Division passed through the 27th Marines on D+25 and reached Kitano Point early in the afternoon, but the 5th's attack against the major Japanese pocket was only partly successful. The 27th Marines and 2/26 had been pulled out of the lines and were in process of being reorganized as a single battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Robertson. While this was taking place, the 26th Marines with 3/28 attached, attacked with three battalions abreast and advanced painfully through the rocky country. Major Tolson A. Smoak had taken command of 3/28 when Lieutenant Colonel Shepard was hospitalized on D+23.
The tactics of the advance now followed a definite pattern. Infantry first moved out and drew fire to locate the enemy. Armored dozers then blasted a path for the tanks from which they could fire on the already located positions. Flame-throwing tanks then burned out and machine-gunned the Japanese positions, allowing the infantry to move up. As soon as the positions were secure, engineers came up and demolished them.
That morning the 13th Marines, all four battalions firing, laid down their last preparation of the campaign. They received orders in the afternoon to secure and wait for embarkation orders. In the 26 days it had been ashore, Colonel Waller's 13th Marines had fired 129,962 rounds of ammunition.
The 4th Marine Division had cleared the last of the enemy from its zone and was already beginning to embark on transports off the eastern beaches. At dusk of D+25, Japanese resistance was officially declared ended and, for all practical purposes, it was. Still ahead of the 5th Marine Division though was the last pocket of resistance, and there were still scattered enemy in other parts of the island. These could have no effect on the outcome of the battle, but somebody had to get rid of them, and the Marines were going to be killed and wounded doing it.
March 17, 1945 D+26
The 26th Marines' tank and dozer supported attack was resumed at 0830 on D+26. At about 1030 a disorganized counter-attack by an estimated 100 enemy troops was repulsed by 3/28 in the center of the 26th Marines' zone of action. The right and center progressed to the north coast and pivoted to the southwest. Strong enemy positions holding up the left had developed final resistance into a deeply ravined pocket of roughly 800 x 200 yards. No barrage rockets were fired on D+26 or thereafter, due to the small remaining enemy occupied area.
The 5th Pioneer Battalion was ordered to attack at 0830 to the northwest, down the large draw running across its front. 1/28 and 2/28 were ordered to hold and support by fire. The Pioneers were unable to advance more than 50 yards during the day and in the late afternoon were ordered to withdraw to the position they had occupied prior to the attack. However, this was no discredit to them because, while they were perfectly capable of holding a defensive position, they were not trained infantrymen and should not have been expected to continue the attack.
March 18, 1945 D+27
As the 26th Marines eliminated the last enemy resistance in northwestern Iwo Jima and its 1st Battalion broke through to the sea, the only remaining Japanese-held ground, all in the 5th Division zone, was the gorge which the 28th Marines had been facing. It was 800 yards long from its inland approach to the western beach and 75 to 500 yards wide, filled with jagged, rocky outcrops. Men moving through it would face heavy, accurate machine gun and rifle fire from caves and spider holes in the cliffs and outcrops. The Japanese decision to hold this ground to the end would cost the 5th Marine Division 400 more casualties.
To crush this last resistance, General Rockey decided that the 28th Marines would hold their position on the southern lip of the gorge while the 26th Marines worked down it from the north and east. General Hermle, the Assistant Division Commander, moved into an observation post overlooking the gorge and General Rockey transferred to him operational control over all units in the area.
March 19, 1945 D+28
Japanese resistance on D+28 centered around an immense concrete structure near the eastern entrance to the gorge. It was surrounded by mutually supporting caves, and was absolutely impervious to tank shelling and demolition attempts with 40 pound charges. Finally, Marines destroyed the surrounding positions and by-passed the emplacement, which was later destroyed, after tankdozers had closed off several air vents and a steel door, by more than 4 tons of explosives divided into 5 charges.
1/26 spearheaded the attack down the gorge while other battalions along with the 5th Pioneer Battalion hammered at its mouth or mopped up along either side. A motor transport detachment under Captain Samuel L. Slocum was detached from 1/28 and returned to its battalion after 8 days of well performed duty with the infantry. In the course of 1/26's attack, Lieutenant Colonel Pollock, its commander, was wounded and Major Albert V. K. Gary took command.
March 20, 1945 D+29
D+29 saw 3/27 and 1/26 continue the attack down the gorge until G Company, 2/27 operating with two platoons and any specialists it could scrape up, ran into a knoll solidly held by the Japanese. The enemy opened up with a hand grenade barrage from caves cut into the sides of the knoll, and Captain James C. Brennan's Marines fought back in kind, emptying 36 cases of grenades during the afternoon and disposing of various of the enemy who charged the Marine lines with bombs and explosive charges strapped to their backs.
After dozers had cleared a path, flame-throwing tanks moved up and burned out the caves which were still occupied as G Company, minus 7 killed and 24 wounded, fought its way to the top of the knoll. Before dark, however, the company moved back a short distance and dug in on more defensible ground.
While this battle was being fought, 1/26's patrols, with engineers and tanks attached, had probed far down the gorge and killed about 80 Japanese in the process. During this operation one tank-dozer operator had nosed his machine gun down the gorge, plowing shut caves and scooping out paths for the tanks behind him. Suddenly a lone Japanese soldier carrying a satchel charge ran at the dozer with the very evident intention of blowing it up. The operator swung sharply toward his assailant, raised the powerful dozer blade, paused, and dropped it, neatly cutting the Japanese in two. Then, as an astonished tank crew looked on, this Marine climbed from his machine and ambled over to the buttoned-up Sherman. Disregarding enemy fire he banged on the side of the tank until a disbelieving crew member answered him through a fire port. "Did you see what that Nip tried to do to me?" he exclaimed. "That did it, brother, I'm finished!" With that he ambled down the gorge through sniper-thick country until finally he reached the Marine front lines. Although tankmen had not recovered from the incident, the next day the dozer operator had, and was again leading the fight against the last organized resistance on Iwo.
March 21, 1945 D+30
The 26th Marines with 3/27 and 3/28 attached, attacked again on D+30 as 1/26 and 3/27 moved down the gorge while 3/28 held its positions. The enemy would not give ground and forced the Marines to eliminate them one by one. Many Japanese appeared dressed in Marine unforms and firing M-1 rifles, which they seemed to prefer to their own.
Company D, 1/26 advanced 200 yards down the gorge, but needed flame-throwing tanks to go farther. When it developed that there was no way to get them in, the company tried using portable flamethrowers until the Japanese shot the liquid out of the tanks. One operator was burned to death when his equipment was hit, and the other's life was saved by the narrowest of margins. On the rim of the gorge 1/28 picked up 40 yards to the edge of the cliff, and 2/28, after a patrol had killed 25 enemy riflemen and sealed 15 caves in the morning, also moved up 100 yards to the cliff's edge.
That night General Kuribayashi sent his last message to Tokyo: "We have not eaten or drunk for five days, but our fighting spirit is still running high. We are going to fight bravely to the last." There is evidence that–first and last–the General's men fought bravely. Of the 159 Japanese and 58 Korean prisoners taken by the entire landing force, 11 died and 85% of the rest were wounded and needed medical care.
March 22, 1945 D+31
D+31 was a repetition of D+30, except that Marines gained more ground. 3/27 led the attack and, with tanks, dozer tanks, and flame-throwing tanks which had been gotten to them, gained about 300 yards.
The backbone of enemy defenses in the gorge had been broken, but the 27th Marines was no longer in fighting condition, and the battered composite battalion which was all that was left of Colonel Wornham's regiment was relieved. As a matter of fact losses had been so heavy that the average battalion, which had landed with 36 officers and 885 men, now mustered 16 officers and 300 men, including the hundreds of replacements who had been funneled in since D-Day. Many small units were now commanded by corporals and privates first class.
March 23, 1945 D+32
The night of D+31 into D+32 was quiet on 1/28's front, but D and F Company CP's of 2/28 were attacked by 60 Japanese who made a banzai charge up a ravine about 200 yards in back of the lines and in rear of the CP's. 50 of the enemy were killed in the attack and the few remaining alive were destroyed the next morning.
At about 0700, 3/26 relieved 3/27 in the line and 3/27 moved to the rear. At about 0900, following preparation by tanks, 3/26 and 3/28 resumed the advance moving down the gorge methodically mopping up, sealing caves, and squeezing the Japanese into a smaller and smaller area. 1/28 and 2/28 continued to hold their same positions and support the attack by fire. Company A of the 5th Engineer Battalion, no longer attached, continued to support the 26th Marine elements as needed.
March 24, 1945 D+33
D+33 saw the 28th Marines, with 3/26 attached, ordered to continue the attack down the draw to the ocean. 2/28 was ordered to support by fire, and as 3/28 moved forward, 2/28's left company was to pivot on its left flank and move west toward the sea in conjunction with 3/28. Tanks from A and C Companies, 5th Tank Battalion, supported both landing teams. Progress was slow, but steady, because roads had to be built for tanks as they could reach the remaining enemy with flame throwers. At the close of the day, 3/28 had reduced the pocket to a small area along the west coast. 1/28 continued to mop up in the area through which it had moved during the past 15 days. The Division Reconnaissance Company was detached from 1/28 and reverted to Division at 1715.
March 25, 1945 D+34
On D+34, 3/28 was ordered to move its reserve company through Item Company of 3/26 and continue the attack to the sea. I Company reverted to 3/26 control when passed through. 1/28 and 3/26 continued mopping up rear areas near the pocket. B Company, 5th Pioneer Battalion, was detached from 2/28 and reverted to Division control at 1000. By 1045, 3/28 and 2/28 had reached the sea and offensive operations ceased. The gorge was declared secure. The job was finished. All remaining attached units were returned to parent control by 1600. 1/28 and 2/28 were ordered to move their troops back to the vicinity of their CP's and continue to police assigned areas. 3/28 was ordered to move to a bivouac area in the vicinity of Nishi Village. Lieutenant Colonel Shepard resumed command of 3/28 at 1800, and Major Peatross returned to Regimental H&S Company as R-3.
1/26 and Weapons Company moved to beach WHITE-2 about 1100 and were loaded onto the USS John Land about 1300. 2/26 moved to beach WHITE-2 about 1300 and was loaded onto the USS John Land about 1400. At about 1800, 3/26 reverted to the 26th Marines and assembled awaiting orders.
March 26, 1945 D+34
The night of March 26 (D+35) was quiet until just before dawn. Then, without warning, a force of several hundred Japanese who apparently had been hiding in by-passed caves moved down from the north, apparently driving for the ships' loading area on the western beaches. As this force penetrated deep into the central island area, they overran the bivouacs of newly arrived Army Air Force units and Seabees (both were hard hit) and got into the bivouac area of the 5th Pioneer Battalion. On this unit fell the main burden of repelling the attack and destroying the Japanese troops.
As the Japanese attempted to move into C Company's bivouac, Lieutenant Harry L. Martin quickly organized a firing line to check them. Determined to rescue several men trapped in a position overrun by the enemy, he defied intense fire to work his way to the surrounded Marines. Although wounded twice, Martin blasted the enemy troops who blocked his way, located the beleaguered men, and directed them into the Marine lines.
When four of the enemy occupied a machine gun pit and began to toss grenades, the Lieutenant, armed only with a pistol, boldly charged the position and killed all of the occupants. Realizing that his few remaining Marines could not repulse another organized attack, he called on them to follow as he charged into the midst of the strong enemy force. He scattered and disorganized the Japanese in front of his position until he fell, mortally wounded by a grenade. Martin became the fourteenth 5th Division Marine to win the Medal of Honor on Iwo Jima. Only four, however, were still alive.
After being driven back in C Company's area, the enemy renewed his efforts in the Air Corps bivouac area bordering on the south of the Pioneer Battalion. Captains George W. Ellis and Robert C. Munroe quickly organized all available personnel from Companies A and B, 5th Pioneer Battalion, and attacked this enemy force. After brief but bitter hand-to-hand fighting, all enemy soldiers were wiped out. Their dead numbered 223, 196 of whom fell in the Pioneer Battalion area. This Marine unit lost 9 killed and 31 wounded. The attack was not a Banzai charge but was carefully calculated to achieve maximum confusion and destruction before its inevitable annihilation. Many of the enemy soldiers were armed with U.S. carbines and BARs, and about 40 carried swords, indicating a high percentage of officers and senior NCOs. The majority of the Japanese showed evidences of previous wounds. A POW taken by the 3rd Marine Division stated that General Kuribayashi and other senior officers were in the final attack force but examination of bodies, captured swords, and documents failed to confirm this. Kuribayashi's fate never was known. So ended the battle for Iwo Jima, savage and bloody to the last.