Final Operations on Iwo Jima1
On 11 March 1945, operations on Iwo Jima entered their final phase. No longer under any central direction, three more or less clearly defined enemy pockets fought a battle to the death in the zone of advance of each of the three Marine divisions. As the pockets became more constricted, the nature of the fighting changed, mostly because the terrain no longer permitted the employment of naval gunfire, air support, and in the end even artillery. Eventually, as Japanese resistance neared the end, tanks and half-tracks furnished the heavy supporting fire needed to root out the last of the obstinate enemy defenders.
Elimination of the Pockets--3d Marine Division Area2
On D plus 20, the only major opposition in the zone of advance of the 3d Marine Division extended along the division's rough boundary, where enemy remnants still occupied a ridgeline paralleling the coast to the east of Kitano Point. (See Map IX). A second center of resistance farther south, to the east of Motoyama Village, southeast of the Northern Airfield, and southwest of Hill 362C was a pocket which had already been under attack for several days prior to 11 March. Named after the commander of 2/9, Lieutenant Colonel Cushman, this pocket was honeycombed with caves and emplacements cut into sandstone. The pocket itself was ringed by antitank guns and Colonel Nishi's dug-in light and medium tanks, equipped with 37mm and 47mm guns. The most prominent occupant of the pocket was Colonel Nishi, who had thus far survived the ferocious fighting on the island.
On 11 March, 1/9 and 3/9 were to execute a converging attack from the high ground near the east coast into the northeastern fringes of the pocket. Once the two battalions had linked up, they were to launch a concerted drive into the pocket from the east. In the course of the morning, the 1st Battalion assaulted a ridge overlooking the pocket and blasted its way to the top, demolishing caves and other positions as it went along. The advance was supported by Shermans from the 3d Tank Battalion, whose fire either destroyed such enemy defenses as could be spotted or at least kept the occupants of strongpoints underground to permit the approach of demolition teams. The 3d Battalion was forced to assault similar terrain during the morning without tank support, which did not arrive until an armored bulldozer had carved out a road for the Shermans during the early afternoon. In mid-afternoon, shortly after 1500, the two battalions linked up. For the remainder of the day, elements of both battalions mopped up along the east coast, outposted the beach, and established defensive positions on the high ground east of Hill 362C.
Even though no solid line of containment surrounded the pocket from the west or southwest, there was no activity on the part of the Japanese trapped within, aimed at either evading the encirclement or launching a direct assault against the Marines approaching them. Instead, the enemy followed the orders issued by General Kuribayashi to the letter. Remaining within their relatively secure pillboxes, dugouts, caves, and stationary tanks, the Japanese contested every foot of ground, continuing to make the Marines pay an exorbitant price for every yard gained.
In order to support the advance of 3/21, a 7.2-inch rocket launcher, mounted on a sled, was attached to the battalion. This improvisation was the idea of the VAC ordnance officer, who had four of the rocket launchers mounted on sleds when it was found that these weapons did not fit the M4A3 tank with which VAC was then equipped. The sled mount appeared to be the answer to the problem of getting this powerful supporting weapon into terrain which was impassable for tanks. Each rocket launcher, equipped with 20 tubes, was capable of delivering 640 pounds of TNT in a salvo. Effective range of the launcher was 250 yards. A volley of rockets, exploding within a narrow area, could be expected to have a gruesome and highly demoralizing effect upon the enemy.
As 3/21 approached the confines of the pocket, meeting very heavy resistance all the way, a rocket launcher was towed into action by a tank of Company C, 3d Tank Battalion. Altogether, 10 volleys were fired into the pocket with undetermined results. Only too soon did it become apparent that the efficiency of the launchers did not match the visual effect created by the exploding rockets. When the dust settled, the enemy still sat securely in his defenses, little the worse for wear. An official report of this action was to note with discouragement: "Nearly 200 of the 7.2-inch rockets were thrown into this pocket and
still our infantry was unable to go in and occupy the ground."3
Elsewhere in the 3d Division zone of advance, General Erskine was able to pull 2/21 out of the line for a much needed rest after elements of the 27th Marines of the 5th Division had moved behind the left flank of that battalion. To fill the gap thus created, 1/21 extended its lines northward and tied in with the adjacent 5th Division. At the same time that 1/9 and 3/9 were converging on Cushman's Pocket from the northeast, 3/21, then attached to the 9th Marines, was approaching the pocket from the southwest.
For the remainder of 11 March, 3d Division engineers and riflemen blasted caves and dugouts. Because of the proximity of the battle lines, General Erskine's division did not receive any artillery support that day, though 1/12 stood by for call fires if needed. Similarly, there was no air support for the same reasons, except that aerial observation was used to report the movements of 3d Division units. After nightfall the Japanese, employing hit-and-run tactics, emerged from their hideouts and stealthily approaching the Marine positions, hurled a few hand grenades, and then attempted to disappear as quietly as they had come. Such tactics succeeded only infrequently, and many of the infiltrators did not survive to tell of their exploits.
On the evening of 11 March, 3/21 was facing eastward with a frontage of 200-300 yards, while 1/9 and 3/9 were facing westward with a frontage of about 600 yards. A distance of 500-600 yards separated 3/21 from the two battalions of the 9th Marines. The 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, was in division reserve just east of Motoyama Village, where it was engaged in mopping up the enemy units on the southern fringe of the pocket. At the same time, the battalion formed a line some 400 yards long which acted as a stop-gap for any enemy troops seeking to escape westward from the encirclement.
Early on 12 March, compression of Cushman's Pocket continued, with 1/9 and 3/9 again hammering from the east while 3/21 formed the anvil along the western fringes. Lieutenant Colonel Boehm's 3d Battalion, advancing westward, apparently hit one of the developing weak spots in the enemy lines and made fair progress. The 1st Battalion to the south, on the other hand, ran into heavy resistance and was unable to keep pace with 3/9. Finally, an armored bulldozer carved out a pa,th over which the Shermans could move to the front lines. Once the tanks had arrived there, eager infantrymen accurately pinpointed the enemy position for the tankers, and, in the words of the official report, "successful work in eliminating these positions was done by the tanks."4
In the zone of advance of the 1st and 3d Battalions, 9th Marines, extreme difficulty was encountered with the terrain which alternately featured steep banks and gulches filled with soft volcanic ash. The tankers constantly had to be on the alert for Japanese in the vicinity who were only too eager to seek death if there was a chance of
blowing up an American tank along with themselves. Tanks bogged clown in the difficult terrain proved irresistible objectives for suicidal Japanese, not to mention their attractiveness as stationary targets of opportunity for the remaining enemy antitank guns. In addition to the above, the tankers found it very difficult to maintain direction since their movements were directed over the radio through remote control. Many of the enemy positions were so carefully camouflaged that as often as not Marines were almost on top of them before they were spotted. Once again, flamethrowers and demolitions proved their worth in this type of fighting. Progress was made on D plus 21, but in the rear of Cushman's Pocket, specifically along the crest of the ridge overlooking the east coast of Iwo Jima, resistance remained stubborn.
On the following day, 13 March, the pocket was further compressed when 1/9 and 3/9 continued their drive. Once again, the progress of the attack was impeded by caves, pillboxes, emplaced tanks, stone walls, and trenches. So masterfully had these defenses been camouflaged that "only those immediately in front of the troops could be located. . . . Out of about 150 of these positions (by later count), we knew roughly twenty or thirty of them."5 Nevertheless, despite the initial advantage accruing to the defenders, the Marine incursion into the pocket could not be stopped. Sherman tanks, particularly those equipped with flamethrowers, lent the necessary emphasis to the advance of the two battalions. The flame tanks proved most effective in reducing a number of troublesome concrete emplacements. Still operating in very rough terrain, the Shermans moved only short distances at a time, and then only with the aid of an armored bulldozer.
As far as the 9th Marines was concerned, the performance of the Shermans was of crucial importance. The regimental commander, Colonel Kenyon, considered them "to be the most formidable supporting weapon at our disposal . . . tank support was the deciding factor in this action."6
By the end of D plus 22, Cushman's Pocket had shrunk to a mere 250 yards. The diminishing size of the pocket enabled the withdrawal of two units from the encircling force. On the morning of 13 March, 1/21 relieved those elements of 3/21 that were engaged on the line, and the latter battalion reverted to its parent regiment. Having cleared its zone of action by evening of the same day, 3/9 was pulled out of this area early on 14 March and shifted to the vicinity of Hill 362, where it commenced a systematic mop-up.
The morning of 14 March marked the beginning of the final drive aimed at eliminating Cushman's Pocket. The main burden of the attack now rested on 1/9, which pressed forward throughout the morning and by midafternoon had gained about 100 yards. Once again, the use of armor proved decisive in eliminating the stubborn enemy defenses. A flame tank belonging to Company B, 3d Tank Battalion, was hit
by a rifle grenade which caused a small explosion inside the vehicle, wounding the driver and assistant driver.
At 1530, 2/9 reverted from division reserve to regimental control. Shortly before 1800, the battalion passed through 1/9 and launched an attack into the enemy position which by this time had already shrunk to about 150 square yards. Shermans of the 3d Tank Battalion played a dominant role in reducing whatever stubborn resistance remained, but a flame tank borrowed from the 5th Marine Division outdid all others. This tank was able to shoot a flame about 125 yards and, according to the official report, it "proved to be the weapon that worked when all others failed. Its long flame range and the area covered by one burst were the contributing factors to its remarkable success."7 By the time the Shermans and flame tanks had roamed through the pocket, blasting and burning everything in their path, enemy resistance became sporadic and gradually began to flicker out. The stage was now set for the infantry to move in and finish the job.
What might have turned into a routine chore of mopping up turned instead into a rather protracted operation requiring all the skill the attacking force could muster. The action that 2/9 saw for the remainder of 14 March was subsequently described with the statement: "Inconclusive hand to hand fighting ensued until dark."8 Hidden within this sentence, however, was a factor which was to be brought out elsewhere, namely the combination of physical and mental exhaustion that was taking its toll among Marines on Iwo Jima at this phase of operations as surely as had shells and bullets of the enemy. Few Marines who had made the initial landing were left during the final phase of the fighting. Their places had been taken by willing though inexperienced replacements, whose performance in combat left much to be desired. As one Marine historian was to put it:
By this stage in the operation a large percentage of infantry troops were replacements who lacked the combat training and experience that prepared and conditioned men for closing with the enemy. Therefore, the skill and efficiency of assault Marines showed marked deterioration after three weeks of personnel attrition of original D-Day troop strength. During the final days of 3d Division efforts to smash remaining pockets, armor support made success possible. Gun tanks, armored bulldozers, and flame-throwing Shermans combined their operations to give the exhausted infantry a very effective and much needed assist.9
In dealing with the same subject matter, the battalion report was to state succinctly: "Almost all of the infantry were replacements. They lacked entirely the will to close with the enemy."10 Needless to say, this statement was not intended as an indictment of the men involved, but of the replacement system which forced men to join strange squads and platoons whose teamwork was dissipated by heavy casualties. For the individual Japanese, who fought to the end among friends,
death was an infinitely less lonely and impersonal affair than for the average Marine replacement.
While bitter fighting continued in Cushman's Pocket, where one enemy position after the other was eliminated, a different type of action took place just to the east of the pocket on one of the ridges overlooking the east coast. Initially, this ridge had been seized on D plus 16 in the conventional manner--direct attack with flamethrowers, small arms, and demolitions--by 3d Division Marines, who blasted this objective like hundreds of others and then moved on, leaving behind blackened and battle-scarred cave entrances that looked sinister even in broad daylight. Several days passed and the front lines had moved on to the north when this desolate ridge came to life again.
The first indication that something was going awry in this so-called rear area came when a heavy Japanese machine gun, hidden somewhere in the previously cleared ridge, opened up on an unsuspecting Marine carrying ammunition and killed him. Other Marines near the ridge soon became startled victims of the enemy fire from the ridge which grew in intensity as small arms joined the machine gun. The next victims were stretcher bearers and their wounded burden. Eventually, tanks and demolitions men arrived and the dangerous, time-consuming job of clearing the ridge had to be repeated. To quote one report:
Despite their preponderance of weapons the Marines found that there were too many holes. They would attack one only to be shot at from another one half a dozen feet away. Moreover, the ridge was curved like an S. Entranceways protected each other, so that Marines would be hit in the back from holes guarding the one they were assaulting. The inter-connecting tunnels inside the ridge also allowed the Japs to play deadly tag with the Marines. They would shoot out of one hole. By the time Marines got close enough to that hole, the Japs had left it and were shooting from another one twenty yards away and higher up in the wall. The Marines had to post guards at every hole they could see in order to attack any one of them. The tunnels also curved and twisted inside the ridge. The Japs could escape the straight trajectory weapons and grenades thrown into the cave entrances, merely by running back into the interior.11
Finally, flamethrowers squirted their lethal liquid into the caves, which became boiling infernos. A number of the Japanese who had reoccupied the ridge were incinerated. Others, their clothing and bodies aflame, tried to escape, only to fall prey to accurate Marine bullets. In desperation, some of the enemy trapped inside the ridge blew themselves up with hand grenades. Before long:
. . . the scene became wild and terrible. More Japs rushed screaming from the caves. They tumbled over the rocks, their clothes and bodies burning fiercely. Soon the flamethrowers paused. A Marine lifted himself cautiously into view. There were no shots from the caves. A Jap with his clothes in rags hunched himself out of one hole, his arms upraised. The Marines stood up behind the rocks and waved to him to come out. The Jap indicated that there were more who would like to surrender. The Marines motioned him to tell them to come out.12
In all, 40 men emerged from the ridge, many of them Koreans. Marines
shouldered their weapons as the prisoners were marched to the rear. The tanks left the erstwhile battlefield and quiet descended over the area. Yet this peaceful interlude was soon to be shattered again a few hours later when the Japanese, moving through underground tunnels, reoccupied the ridge. One of the first victims proved to be Sergeant Reid Chamberlain, a Marine with an unusual background. As a member of the U.S. Army, he had witnessed the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, but instead of surrendering to the enemy, he had turned his activities towards the organization and training of Filipino guerrillas. He received a commission in the U.S, Army and returned to the United States, where he promptly resigned his commission and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
En route to the forward positions of the 21st Marines, Sergeant Chamberlain was walking past the long, rocky ridge, unaware that there were any enemy in the vicinity. Suddenly, there were several shots, one of which hit the sergeant in the head. This incident took place in front of several Marine news correspondents, some of whom also drew enemy fire. When help arrived for the sergeant, it was too late. As one of the correspondents present was to put it later, speaking of the enemy:
In an instant they had claimed one of our best men. Chamberlain's wonderful war record had ended abruptly. After so many heroic deeds, it seemed an added tragedy that he was killed while doing nothing but walking. There was nothing anybody could do about it.13
Efforts to employ flamethrowers against the ridge during the fading hours of daylight proved unavailing, since all of these weapons were committed in the front lines. At dusk, elements of the 9th Marines bivouacked on the ridge, which had become dormant again. Apprised of the situation, the commanding officer posted sentries behind the rocks facing the ridge, ready to fire on anything that moved.
Hardly had dusk settled over the area, when there was stealthy movement on the slopes of the ridge as individual Japanese emerged from previously undetected cracks and holes. Marines opened fire on these blurred silhouettes. The results of this fire became quickly evident as some of the Japanese who had been hit groaned with pain, others jerked spasmodically and then lay silent while the remainder, realizing that they were trapped, attempted to burrow their way back into the ground. A few who managed to get back under cover committed suicide.
Shortly before midnight there was a tremendous blast which hurled huge pieces of rock through the air and shook the entire area. Some of the Marines were buried in volcanic ash and debris up to their necks and had to be dug out. Others were hit by chunks of concrete that rained down throughout the area. The ridge itself became a mass of fire and disintegrating matter. While the Marines were still engaged in assessing what had happened and trying to aid each other as best they could, Japanese began to emerge from their holes on the ridge, some of them dazed, others carrying antipersonnel mines tied around their waists, A group
of five Japanese, running along the wall of the ridge, was spotted by the light of the flames and all were instantly killed.
At dawn it became apparent that, despite the explosion and subsequent bitter fighting, the Marines had suffered only one serious casualty. There might have been more if men, who found themselves buried in debris and volcanic ash, had not been rescued by fellow Marines before they were smothered. It was subsequently discovered that the enemy had used land mines and aerial bombs to blow up the ridge.
On 15 March organized resistance in the 3d Division sector had just about ended. General Erskine's division was ordered to relieve elements of the 5th Marine Division on the right of that division and attack to the northwest.14 Early on 16 March, D plus 25, the 21st Marines took over an 800-yard sector on the right of General Rockey's division. The boundary between the two divisions now extended from a point 400 yards east of Hill 362B to the northern tip of Iwo Jima near Kitano Point.
Following the relief of 3/27 and 2/26 by the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 21st Marines, that regiment prepared to attack to the north in conjunction with elements of the 5th Marine Division. A 20-minute preparation by the 3d and 5th Division artillery, as well as the 155s of the corps artillery, preceded the jumpoff, which was scheduled for 0815, and continued for 10 minutes following H-Hour. The rolling barrage, which marked the final phase of the preparatory fire moved only 50 yards ahead of the assault units and then moved forward at 100-yard intervals in conj unction with the advance. In addition to the shore-based artillery, a destroyer offshore shelled northern Iwo for nearly an hour and then stood by to deliver call fires. Fighters stationed on the Southern Airfield were available for air support, but the restricted area in which the final operations on Iwo Jima took place precluded their employment.
The attack of 1/21 made good headway against only light resistance. On the other hand, 2/21 encountered heavy small arms fire and extremely difficult terrain, both of which combined to retard its advance. Japanese, fighting from caves and spider trap positions, offered their customary obstinate resistance. Some of them, obviously bent on suicide, charged tanks or groups of Marines with grenades and demolition charges. For the most part, such sorties were marked more by fierce fanaticism than cool logic, and most of them failed before the human bomb could inflict much damage on the Marines or their armor. During the early afternoon both battalions reached the coast near Kitano Point. From that point, it became a matter of mopping up such enemy as remained in caves and other shelters. By the end of 16 March, General Erskine's men had completed the elimination of Cushman's Pocket and, at the same time, had completed their mission in helping out the 5th Marine Division. This action, for all practical purposes, ended combat operations of the 3d Marine Division on Iwo Jima. Late on D plus 25, General Erskine announced
that all enemy resistance in the zone of action of his division had ceased.15
In fact, even though Cushman's Pocket had been overrun, Colonel Nishi, commanding the 26th Tank Regiment was still inside with about 450 men, all that had remained of his command. of these, 300 were wounded and few of them were able to move on their own. From their underground hideout, the Japanese could hear their erstwhile comrades, now prisoners of war and working for the Americans, calling on Colonel Nishi to surrender. But such appeals fell on deaf ears. Early on 19 March, with only two days' food supply remaining, Colonel Nishi ordered his men to make a final charge against the Americans. Only 60 were able to heed his call. Sometime between 19 and 22 March, Colonel Nishi died. Whether he was felled by an American bullet or by his own hand has never been clearly determined though his widow finds solace in the thought "that he died at the foot of the northern cliffs, and that ocean waves have scattered his remains.16
Following its impressive gains on 10 March, which had taken some of its assault units to the vicinity of the east coast, the 4th Marine Division continued the attack on the following morning. Jumping off with the 23d and 25th Marines at 0730, the division continued its advance to the coast. (See Map X). On the left the 23d Marines reached its objective rapidly, overrunning such enemy resistance as flared up in its path. In the wake of the regiment's advance, engineers sealed caves and constructed a road. In late afternoon, 1/23 relieved 2/23 and pulled back to the same positions held during the preceding night. Combat patrols were dispatched into the beach areas to search out enemy stragglers or holdouts.
4th Marine Division Mopup17
The advance of the 25th Marines did not progress as smoothly as that of the 23d. Almost immediately after the jumpoff, Colonel Lanigan's regiment ran into heavy fire from rockets, mortars, and small arms. As a result, little ground was gained. An explanation of the stubborn resistance came during the afternoon when the interrogation of a captured Japanese revealed that about 300 of the enemy were holed up in caves and tunnels directly in front of the regiment. The prisoner further volunteered that a Japanese brigadier general was trapped inside the pocket.18
In describing the area of the pocket, 4th Division records had this to say:
It was at once apparent that this area was the final defensive position of the enemy in this zone. The terrain in this area was not normal in any respect; it could be classified only as a terrain freak of nature. However, it was well suited for the construction of cave positions, and the Japanese had utilized this advantage to
the fullest extent. Their scheme of maneuver was to hold up the advance as long as it was possible, and to inflict as many casualties as they could before they were forced to adopt their usual suicidal tactics.19
The terrain itself consisted of a series of deep crevices and steep ridges that extended generally to the east towards the coast. Smaller gullies cutting through the area created a maze of compartments and cross compartments. The rough rocky outcropping and scrubby vegetation that had survived the extensive shelling provided the Japanese with excellent cover and concealment.
That the elimination of this small but tough pocket of resistance would be a difficult and time-consuming operation had already become apparent to 4th Division Marines by the end of 11 March. The presence of one of the big fish in the pocket, General Senda, commander of the 2d Mixed Brigade, made it virtually certain that the remnants of that unit would fight to the bitter end with undiminished fanaticism.20
Even though there was only a marginal possibility that General Senda might be persuaded to surrender, intelligence personnel of the 4th Marine Division decided on 12 March that such an attempt was worth the effort. A prisoner of war volunteered to lead a detail of Marines to the vicinity of General Senda's presumed hideout during the early morning of D plus 21. Under sniper fire, which eventually caused a casualty, Marines set up an amplifier speaker system over which an appeal to surrender was to be broadcast. For more than two hours the psychological warfare team failed in its efforts to start a power generator which would have provided the electricity needed to drive the amplifier. A second motor-driven power plant failed to start and due to this technical breakdown the entire operation had to be called off. Whether General Senda might have heeded the appeal promising and guaranteeing him and his men the best of treatment, remains doubtful. Certainly none of the other Japanese commanders approached in this fashion on Iwo Jima proved responsive.
Following the two-hour delay engendered by the abortive surrender appeal, Marines of the 4th Division launched their attack into the pocket at 0900 with 2/25, 3/25, and 2/24. The scheme of maneuver called for 2/25 to attack down the draws toward the coast while 3/25 and 2/24 were to support the attack with heavy weapons fire. This fire, furnished by bazookas, antitank grenades, and 60mm mortars, had to substitute for artillery support. As of 12 March, the limited area occupied by the enemy in the 4th Division zone no longer constituted a practicable target area, and orders had been issued to secure all 4th Division artillery.
The Japanese, firmly entrenched in ravines, caves, and pillboxes, resisted in their customary tenacious fashion, with the result that only minimal progress was made. The character of the terrain precluded the employment of tanks,
forcing Marines to flush the enemy out of his emplacements one or two at a time. In addition to the slow progress, this type of fighting was, as usual, expensive for the attacking force. By evening of 12 March, the combat efficiency of General Cates' division had dropped to a new low of 36 percent.21
The drive to eliminate General Senda's pocket continued on 13 and 14 March along the same lines as on the 12th. Progress throughout remained agonizingly slow, due to the depletion of personnel as much as enemy resistance. While the pocket was being reduced, the 23d Marines began a systematic mopping up of its area from the beach towards the regimental rear. At the same time, the regiment took care of other urgent business, notably the evacuation of the friendly dead, the burial of enemy dead, and the general policing of the area.
By 15 March, the slow and deliberate advance of the 25th Marines was beginning to bear dividends. Even though the enemy continued to offer desperate resistance, there were signs that his power to resist had been considerably reduced. Since 2/25 had become so depleted in strength that it required relief, 2/24 was ordered into the line. A provisional company composed of headquarters personnel and members of the 81mm mortar platoon of 1/25 was organized to take over the area previously held by 2/24. Colonel Lanigan ordered his men to press the attack into the pocket regardless of contact. At the same time, flame tanks stationed on the road paralleling the east coast of Iwo fired northwestward into the inaccessible draws with good effect.
This drive on D plus 24 resulted in a net gain of 200 yards. More important, it scored a deep penetration of the left flank of the pocket, where General Senda had established his strongest positions. In the midst of this bitter fighting, repeated attempts were made to induce the surrender of the Japanese, but none of them fell on fertile soil. The destruction of one cave after another, together with their occupants, continued.
Increased evidence that the pocket could not hold out much longer was received during the night of 15-16 March, when a group of 50-60 Japanese attempted to break out of the encirclement. Six of the enemy were killed and the remainder were driven back into the caves from which they had emerged. When the 25th Marines resumed the attack at 0630 on 16 March, the Marines drew rifle and machine gun fire, and hand grenades exploded all around them. Nevertheless, the Japanese now fought without any real organization and such resistance as was offered came from small, isolated groups. By midmorning, the assault battalions had fought their way through to the beach road and Colonel Lanigan declared all organized resistance in his zone of action ended as of 1030.22
General Senda's body was never found; prisoners volunteered that he had committed suicide on 15 March. As the din of battle receded, all that remained in the hotly contested area were the torn and battered terrain, large
numbers of enemy dead, and the scarred and blackened cave entrances. In six days of bitter fighting, General Senda's pocket had finally been reduced. The Japanese had fought practically to extinction. The 4th Marine Division had paid for the ground with 833 casualties.
Elimination of the enemy centers of resistance in eastern Iwo Jima left only one area in the hands of the Japanese. This was to be the final enemy pocket of resistance in the very northern part of the island, where General Kuribayashi with about 1,500 men was preparing to make his final stand. The Japanese pocket, squarely in the path of the 5th Marine Division's advance, occupied approximately one square mile between Kita Village and Kitano Point on the northwest coast. Not by coincidence, it also comprised the worst ground on the island.
5th Marine Division Drive To Kitano Point23
The badlands of northern Iwo, as this area may well be called, consisted of thousands of soft sandstone outcropping. Here, the Japanese had dug in with their customary efficiency. Each underground position had been provided with multiple entrances and exits to protect the defenders against fire and to permit their escape if one or more of the entrances were sealed. These defenses had been dug to such a depth that flamethrowers could neither burn out their occupants nor exhaust the supply of oxygen available within this defensive system.
In addition to the excellent cover, the Japanese also had the advantage of effective concealment. Their uniforms blended closely with the color of the sandstone. They were familiar with the maze of tunnels that criss-crossed the entire area and could find their way around in the darkness as well as in the daytime. Fighting this type of defensive action, General Kuribayashi could continue to hang on with the austere means at hand. He had no logistics problem, for anything that had to be moved, be it men or supplies, travelled underground. Such vital supplies as ammunition, food, water and medicine all had been stockpiled underground long before the first Marines began to approach the northern portion of the island. In addition to his extensive preparations for combat, General Kuribayashi had seen to it that the knowledge of the entire defense layout was limited to very few of his men, most of whom were told only enough to be familiar with the immediate defenses in their vicinity. As a result, few of the enemy knew anything about the command setup of their own forces and most of them did not know the precise location of Kuribayashi's command post.
For General Rockey's men, the battle for northwestern Iwo meant a continuation of previous difficulties aggravated by worsening terrain. Once again, they would have to seize the forward face of a ridge, fight their way across the crest, then continue to fight their way down the reverse slope, all the while drawing fire from the front, the flanks, from the
ENEMY POSITIONS near Nishi Village under fire. Note burning M-4 tank at left. (USMC 142316)
PRISONER captured by 5th Marine Division near Hill 165 is escorted to the rear for interrogation. (USMC 114881)
rear, and, in some instances, even from below. The latter circumstance was perhaps the most demoralizing, as pointed out by one participant in the fighting:
Perhaps worst of all, every Marine commander fighting through this sandstone jungle knew that underneath him were healthy Japanese who would be out that night to harass his rear, steal his supplies, either recover or booby-trap their own dead, and booby-trap his dead if he couldn't get them out first.
And so the battle for Iwo Jima was ending as it had begun, at close quarters with Marine forces stripped of the advantages of their fire power, fighting an enemy who had been indoctrinated since childhood that the greatest honor he would ever know was to die for his Emperor. He could not be threatened out of his position by encirclement or by superior force; he could not be induced to surrender because of his hopeless position‹tactically or strategically, he had to be killed.24
The 5th Marine Division drive into the biggest enemy pocket remaining on the island got under way on 11 March. The attack was preceded by a 10-minute preparation, which continued until 20 minutes after the jumpoff. The half-hour barrage, fired by the 12th, 13th, and 14th Marines, as well as the corps artillery, provided an impressive spectacle but once again, in accordance with previous experience, was generally ineffective against enemy personnel who huddled in well-protected cave positions.
As the division attacked, with the 27th Marines on the right and the 28th on the left, the men faced a double foe: the Japanese and the terrain, each being equally formidable. The 27th Marines, with 1/26 attached, was able to carve out limited gains of 200 yards and to continue the systematic destruction of enemy cave positions. This was the job of small infantry-demolition teams, which operated more or less on their own, blasting their way forward as they went along. Operating on the division left, the 28th Marines encountered similar difficulties as Marines assaulted individual strongpoints guarding a rocky gorge to the front. The significance of this gorge, which was approximately 200 yards wide and 700 yards long, was not yet apparent to Colonel Liversedge's Marines. However, it was clear that the Japanese had taken great precautions to effectively cover all approaches leading into the gorge with rifle and machine gun fire.
While the enemy generally remained underground and invisible throughout the day, the entire division front erupted into action shortly after nightfall and remained that way throughout the night. Small groups of Japanese continuously attempted to infiltrate the Marine lines. A few were successful in reaching the 81mm mortar positions of 3/27. Seven of the infiltrators were killed in this attempt, one of them wearing a Marine uniform and equipped with an M-1 rifle.25 Around 2100, an enemy concentration opposite the 28th Marines was broken up by an artillery and mortar barrage which killed 26 of the enemy. Sporadic rifle fire and grenade duels continued for the remainder of the night.
The arrival of daylight on D plus 21 returned the initiative to the Marines, who, once again, carried the battle to the enemy. On this occasion, the day
started off with several air strikes against enemy positions just south of Kitano Point. One of the 500-pound bombs aimed at a blockhouse missed its target, only to fall into the mouth of a cave, where a tremendous explosion caused not only this entrance, but various others connected to this cave system, to belch fire and smoke. A similar incident occurred during the early afternoon, when a 500-pound bomb hit a cave entrance and created a violent explosion with smoke observed coming out of caves 200-300 yards away.
For the remainder of the day, the course of the fighting mirrored that of D plus 20. The enemy continued to resist from caves, emplacements, and spider foxholes, frequently holding his fire until Marines had approached to within a few feet of his positions. With the support tanks, the 27th Marines made slow progress against a network of pillboxes and prepared positions. In the course of this advance, between 15 and 18 pillboxes were destroyed, but overall progress still had to be measured in a few yards. The Japanese also had learned a few tricks in recent operations and, in order to escape American air strikes and artillery fire, attempted to hug the Marine lines. Backbone of the Japanese defense were his machine guns, rifles, and knee mortars, all of which continued to exact a continuous toll in Marine lives for each foot of the advance.
During the afternoon of 12 March, Company B of the Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion scouted Kama and Kangoku Rocks, situated close to the northwestern shore of Iwo Jima. Intermittently throughout the campaign, Marines advancing up the west coast had been harassed from suspected Japanese positions on these two islands. There was no doubt that even if the enemy had not permanently stationed artillery there, they harbored keen-eyed observers who had helped to harass shipping approaching the western beaches during the early phase of the operation. As the Marines neared the two islands on 12 vehicles furnished by the 2d Armored Amphibian Battalion, they were greeted by silence. It was decided that a landing on the island would be made at 0900 on the following morning.
These landings, carried out by 6 officers and 94 men, proceeded without incident. The Marines went ashore first on Kama Rock and subsequently on Kangoku, the larger island. On the latter, there was evidence of previous enemy occupancy in the form of several caves and stone emplacements, but no Japanese were present to offer any resistance. Having completed its mission, the reconnaissance company withdrew from the islands.
In a report issued on 12 March, the 5th Marine Division intelligence officer estimated that at least 1,000 Japanese were still defending the northern end of Iwo Jima and concluded: ". . . there is no shortage of manpower, weapons, or ammunition in the area the Japanese have left to defend."26 Actually, the battle was beginning to reach General Kuribayashi's very doorstep. As one account was to relate it:
On March 13, a patrol from the 26th Regiment came very near to Kuribayashi, peering into the cave in which he sat, near
the eastern end of the Gorge. The General's orderly quickly blew out the candles and wrapped the General in a blanket. "Thank you," Kuribayashi said, and walked deeper into the cave. The Marines, one carrying a flamethrower walked a little way into the cave then turned and went out. The orderly sighed.27
While the Japanese on northern Iwo Jima had been suffering badly in the battle of attrition that was now reaching its climax, the Marines of all three divisions had hardly fared any better. As assault troops of General Rockey's division were beginning to close in on the final enemy pocket, the men wearily attacking the ridges above the gorge were tired to the point of exhaustion and many of them found it difficult to remain on their feet. Few veterans of the early battles were left, and death had reaped a grim harvest among the men who had gone ashore on the island 22 days before. Companies were now reduced to platoon size. Most of the aggressive and experienced small unit leaders had long since become casualties. Gaps in the decimated ranks had been filled with replacements who lacked combat experience that would enable them to fight and survive.
On 14 March it became apparent that the slow, step-by-step advance of the 27th Marines finally had cracked the strong enemy positions along the northeastern coast of Iwo Jima. Since the main ridge lines in this area ran from the center of the island to the sea on the west coast, General Rockey decided that the most practical direction of attack henceforth would be from east to west. As a result, the 28th Marines was ordered to hold its present line while the 27th Marines was to shift its direction of attack westward. In the center of the division line the 26th Marines took over a two-battalion front and was ordered to attack northward with 3/26 on the left and 2/26 on the right.
Enemy resistance was less obstinate on D plus 23 than it had been during the preceding days and the 27th Marines, with 2/26 attached, gained up to 600 yards. The attack was supported by tanks which were able to assist the infantry after armored tankdozers had carved routes of approach to the front lines for them. The official report, speaking of the flame tanks, pointed out:
. . . this was the one weapon that caused the Japs to leave their caves and rock crevices and run. On many occasions the Japs attempted to charge our flame tanks with shaped charges and other explosives. Few of these attempts were successful.28
Other developments on Iwo Jima on 14 March gave clear evidence that the end of the long battle was approaching. In mid-morning, five Army Air Forces planes bombed and strafed Japanese positions in front of 3/27 for what proved to be the last air support mission over Iwo Jima. The diminishing size of General Kuribayashi's pocket rendered all further air support impractical. Limited support until the end of the operation would continue to be furnished by artillery and destroyers, and even these supporting arms soon found it difficult to furnish fire in the small area still remaining under enemy control.
While compression of the northern pocket was under way, a ceremony was
taking place at 0930 on 14 March at General Schmidt's headquarters. It was not an elaborate proceeding; in fact, its stark simplicity underscored the significance of the long awaited event. In the presence of flag and general officers of the fleet and landing force, assembled around a flagpole erected in these stark surroundings, the official flag raising on Iwo Jima was held. Among those present were General Holland Smith, Admirals Turner and Hill, and Generals Schmidt, Erskine, Cates, Rockey, and Major General Chancy, representing the Army Garrison Force.29 After the reading of an official proclamation in which the United States officially suspended the powers of government of the Japanese Empire and took over the occupation of the island, the flag was raised at the same time that the one on top of Mount Suribachi was taken down. Upon completion of the ceremony, General Holland Smith and his staff departed from the island by air.30
The night from 14-15 March was marked by continuous enemy activity directed against the 5th Division lines. Around 0200, close to 100 Japanese attempted to infiltrate the positions of 3/27. In the ensuing firefight, 15 of the enemy were killed, most of them by mortar fire.31 Around the same time, a small number of Japanese approached the lines of 2/26 and started tossing hand grenades. At dawn, the action shifted to 3/26, where 30 of the enemy were discovered attempting to enter caves southwest of Kitano Point. Half of this group were killed, the remainder committed suicide.32
The 5th Division attack continued on 15 March. On the right, the 27th Marines advanced 400 yards and reduced enemy resistance in this sector to sporadic small arms fire. In the center, the 26th Marines made smaller but equally significant gains, carving out an advance of 200 yards. On the division left, in front of the 28th Marines, enemy reaction remained determined and formidable. At this time, enemy resistance was still centered in two areas: the steep draw that extended northwest to the sea across the front of the 28th Marines and the strong core of resistance in front of the 26th Marines, just east of the draw.
Within the diminishing pocket, General Kuribayashi and the surviving members of his staff were still in radio contact with the Japanese on Chichi Jima. They were also able to listen to the "Song of Iwo Jima," especially broadcast from Tokyo for the Iwo Jima garrison. Already on the morning of 15 March, General Kuribayashi had announced that the situation was very dangerous and that his strength was down to 900 men.33 By the evening of the following day, his strength had been reduced to 500. Clearly, the end was
drawing near. General Kuribayashi summoned the commander of the 145th Infantry Regiment, Colonel Ikeda, to see how much longer resistance could continue. When the regimental commander informed him that it would all be over in another day or so, General Kuribayashi admonished him to be certain that the regimental colors were burned lest they fall into American hands.
Behind the Marine lines, additional signs of progress were becoming evident as the naval construction engineers put the final touches on the restoration of the Central Airfield. Even though the runways remained unpaved, they were usable and the field was about to become operational. Additional gasoline storage facilities had been completed, and the carpenters of the 5th Division were already busily engaged in building crates in which the division's equipment would be shipped. At the southern end of Iwo Jima, a dirt road leading to the top of Mount Suribachi had been completed and it was now possible to make the trip up by jeep or bulldozer.
Reduction of the northern pocket continued on 16 March. During this final phase of the operation, General Rockey's division was supported by elements of the 3d Marine Division, which passed through the 27th Marines and took over a sector on the right of the 5th Division. Attacking to the north, General Erskine's men reached the north coast shortly before 1400.
The 26th Marines, with 3/28 attached, attacked with three battalions abreast. The advance progressed slowly against heavy rifle fire, as it proceeded over rugged and rocky ground, where all movement was extremely difficult. However, it was a sign of the progress that had already been made that the volume of enemy machine gun fire had greatly diminished, as had the number of caves that were encountered. Nevertheless, there was still an abundance of spider foxholes and positions in the rocky outcrops which permitted the enemy to inflict a deadly fire from close range. In the course of the day, the 26th Marines advanced 200 yards. The 28th Marines remained in position along the southern rim of the rocky gorge and continued the reduction of enemy defenses to its immediate front and flanks. Losses of the 5th Marine Division at this time consisted of 89 officers and 1,993 men killed, 249 officers and 5,710 enlisted men wounded, and 3 officers and 128 men missing. Combat efficiency was estimated at 30 percent.34 The division had sustained a total of 8,162 casualties in 25 days of fighting.
At 1800 on 16 March, Iwo Jima was officially declared secured. Three hours earlier, the 13th Marines had fired its last rounds, since the regiment's guns could no longer furnish supporting fires in the limited area comprising the remaining pockets of resistance. It now became incumbent on the mixed 3d and 5th Division assault forces to complete the occupation of the island with all possible dispatch, a task easier contemplated than accomplished.
Following its relief by the 21st Marines on 16 March, the 27th Marines reorganized
its badly depleted units into three battalions, each consisting of two rifle companies and a headquarters company. A composite battalion, consisting of a headquarters company and four rifle companies, was formed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Dorm J. Robertson. A small remainder of the 27th Marines stayed in division reserve until the end of the operation. The unit mopped up in the rear area and prepared to leave the island. The composite battalion, numbering 460 men, subsequently was to be attached to the 26th Marines, where it would participate in eliminating the final enemy positions on northern Iwo Jima.
All of the records dealing with this final phase of the operation emphasize the state of exhaustion in which the men found themselves. According to one account:
That the Division still moved forward at all was a credit to the men 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. Too, many of the men now were replacements, men who fought gallantly and brought credit to themselves and the Division, but who were not, nevertheless, as highly trained as the Division's original men had been and for that reason probably took slightly heavier losses.35
A sustained effort was made on the part of General Rockey's division to keep up morale. Baked goods and fruit juice were sent to the units in the line; the wounded were evacuated and the dead buried with all possible dispatch. A division newspaper was circulated among the frontline units, and such articles of clothing and toilet articles as were available were sent up to the lines. Some of the more lucky Marines even enjoyed the luxury of hot showers. But, despite such amenities, the report concludes "1wo Jima remained an unclean, evil little island, an island that these men would never forget, however much they would have liked to."36
Despite their ebbing strength and often only through the application of sheer will power, those men of the 3d and 5th Marine Divisions still able to move on their feet and carry a weapon now entered the final phase of the battle for Iwo Jima. Fought in a narrow corner of the island, the final struggle would prove every bit as difficult as the early phase of the operation: death came no easier now than in the beginning.
With the end clearly approaching and under steadily increasing pressure from the advancing Marines, General Kuribayashi on 16 or 17 March left his headquarters, housed in a large dome shaped concrete structure, and moved to a cave occupied by Colonel Ikeda and Admiral Ichimaru, the remaining senior officers of the Iwo Jima garrison following the death of Major General Senda and Captain Inouye in the 4th Division sector. From this cave, situated near the southeastern end of the gorge, the Japanese officers could do little but exhort their men to continue resistance to the last. This cave was still linked to Chichi Jima by radio, and thus the final days of Japanese resistance on Iwo Jima have become a matter of record.
The final battle for Iwo Jima began on 17 March, D plus 26, when 1/26 reached the north coast and pivoted to the southwest towards the gorge which had already been blocked by the 28th Marines for the past few days. (See Map XI), It was here that General Kuribayashi had determined to make his final stand, and he had chosen his final position with great care. The gorge, 700 yards long and 200-500 yards wide, would have been difficult to approach even under normal conditions. Outcrops of rocks subdivided the ravine into minor draws that greatly impeded all movement. The Japanese commander had taken care to insure that all routes of approach leading into the gorge were covered by machine gun and rifle fire from positions that were all but invisible to the approaching Marines.
Battle for the Gorge and Final Operations37
Units of the 5th Marine Division preparing to offer the coup de grace to the final enemy position on the island would have to use their last strength in attaining this objective. A brief breakdown of casualties in this connection speaks for itself:
Our own losses at this time had been extremely heavy. The average battalion which landed with 36 officers and 885 enlisted, now had about 16 officers and 300 enlisted from the original battalion. Most of the company commanders, platoon leaders, and squad leaders had become casualties and many platoons were commanded by Corporals or PFC'S. Assault squads were depleted.38
Plans for reducing the final pocket called for the 28th Marines, with elements of the 5th Pioneer Battalion and the division reconnaissance company attached, to occupy a blocking position along the southern rim of the pocket while the 26th Marines, in conjunction with 3/28 and 3/27, was to advance into the gorge from the north and east. Because of the depleted strength of the units and the condition of the men, assigned zones of action were relatively narrow. In their drive against the pocket on 17 March, 3/26 and 3/28 made slight gains in the northeastern perimeter of the pocket, but once again their progress could be measured in yards.
A drama of a different sort was enacted on the island on D plus 26. On the preceding day, prisoners captured by General Erskine's men had conveyed to their captors the whereabouts of General Kuribayashi and his staff, and, acting upon this information, General Erskine decided to make an attempt to induce these officers to surrender. Realizing that a direct appeal to General Kuribayashi would be fruitless, General Erskine instead dispatched a message to Colonel Ikeda, commanding the 145th Infantry Regiment. The message was handed to two prisoners of war who, carrying cigarettes and rations, proceeded into the gorge, fully aware of the importance of their mission. As they trudged off on this unusual errand, the pair was handed a walkie-talkie over
which they were to maintain contact with the 3d Division Language Section.
As they slowly continued on their journey, the two emissaries crossed lines and soon made contact with groups of Japanese, apparently without arousing anyone's suspicion. Several radio messages were received by 3d Division personnel indicating that the prisoners were getting close to their objective. At this point, the couriers stopped all further transmissions. One of them, who had incurred a leg wound, dropped out, but the other continued and six hours after embarking on his bizarre mission, reached the headquarters cave. There, he turned the message over to one of the sentries who passed it on to the regimental commander. Upon learning that Ikeda had taken the message in to General Kuribayashi, the prisoner lost his nerve and beat a hasty retreat.
As soon as he had rejoined his fellow courier, the radio transmissions to the 3d Division resumed and the Marines were informed that the two were on their way back. Upon reaching the Marine lines at the rim of the gorge, the prisoners thought themselves safe and were more than slightly disturbed at the rude reception accorded to them by 5th Division Marines, who were unaware of General Erskine's psychological warfare effort. The situation was finally straightened out before the two messengers came to any harm, though it took some convincing of the skeptical 5th Division Marines that the two Japanese were indeed working for General Erskine.
The practical results of this surrender attempt, as in previous instances, were nil. None of the high-ranking Japanese officers on Iwo Jima surrendered, and the battle of attrition continued to take its slow and agonizing course. Even though nearly all of the Japanese on Iwo Jima, under General Kuribayashi's dynamic leadership, would fight to the end, there were some who heeded the repeated appeals to surrender. American planes dropped propaganda leaflets, and the artillery fired shells filled with surrender leaflets and passes. For the Japanese soldier on Iwo Jima, surrender was not an easy matter. He could count on being executed by his own people if caught with American propaganda on his person. Surrender might mean that he could never again return to his homeland and face his compatriots. And, last but not least, he had no guarantee that the Marines would honor their promise of fair treatment once he turned himself in to them. No wonder that the Japanese were hesitant to take the final and irreversible step in view of the uncertainty surrounding it. A sampling of 65 prisoners of war showed that 53 had been influenced in their decision to give up by some contact with American propaganda. The remaining 12 had been deterred by fear of their officers and distrust of the Marines and were captured under different circumstances.39
Meanwhile, the Marines continued to close in on General Kuribayashi's pocket. With the end in sight, the Japanese garrison commander addressed this order to his men on 17 March:
- The battle situation came to the last moment.
- I want my surviving officers and men to go out and attack the enemy tonight.
- Each troop! Go out simultaneously at midnight and attack the enemy until the last. You all have devoted yourself to His Majesty, the Emperor. Don't think of yourself.
- I am always at the head of you all.40
Strangely enough, there was no unusual activity during the night from 17- 18 March, and nothing even resembling a banzai charge occurred. From this point onward, the information concerning the last days of the enemy's battle for Iwo Jima becomes increasingly hazy. Most of what has remained passed through the hands of the Chichi Jima garrison, which continued to receive radio messages from Iwo that were filed and subsequently turned over to the Americans. Thus, early on 17 March, Chichi Jima was notified that "the 145th Infantry Regiment fought bravely near 'Hyoriuboku' holding their regimental flag in the center." Later in the day, Colonel Ikeda sent this cryptic message: "Here we burnt our brilliant Regimental Flag completely. Good bye."41
Iwo Jima became the scene of a wild celebration on the evening of 18 March. It had nothing to do with the fact that the enemy was finally cornered in the northwestern portion of the island and his elimination now was but a matter of days. Instead, someone had leaked word that Germany had surrendered, and this item of news, entirely unfounded and nearly two months premature, spread all over Iwo Jima like wildfire. As a result:
. . . for about an hour the island was the happiest spot on earth. Antiaircraft and other units in rear areas opened up a jubilant barrage with machine guns, antiaircraft guns, carbines, rifles, and pistols.42
Before it was over, units all over the island and the ships offshore had the news. An end to the celebration came only when Condition Red was declared, a warning that enemy planes were in the area. As one account has it, "The Fifth Division hospital treated three casualties from 'the German war' and there were certainly others."43 Following the excitement, Marines on Iwo Jima returned to the more normal routine of routing individual Japanese and thwarting the enemy's infiltration attempts.
As the advance continued on 19 March, enemy resistance became centered around General Kuribayashi's erstwhile headquarters. The structure proved completely impervious to the 75mm tank shells and likewise defied all attempts to demolish it with 40-pound shaped charges. It would take the assaulting Marines two days to destroy the surrounding positions and then commence a direct assault on the command center. Engineers with bulldozers sealed an entrance on the north side of the structure and several air vents. Finally, four tons of explosives, divided into five charges, proved sufficient to destroy this stubborn center of resistance. Just who and how many among the Japanese perished within has never become known. However, the garrison commander and the high-ranking officers were safely tucked away in Colonel Ikeda's cave, and reports continued to reach Chichi Jima, though
communications daily became more sporadic.
Around 17-18 March, General Kuribayashi sent his final message to Imperial General Headquarters, in which he apologized to the Emperor for his failure to hold the island. The message was accompanied by a poem in which the garrison commander promised:
My body shall not decay in the field
Unless we are avenged;
I will be born seven more times again
To take up arms against the foe.
My only concern is
Our country in the future
When weeds cover here44
About the same time, but in a less poetic and more down-to-earth fashion, Admiral Ichimaru penned a rather vituperative letter to none other than President Roosevelt, charging the latter with a lack of understanding for Japan's problems and accusing the white race, and the Anglo-Saxons in particular, "of monopolizing the fruits of the world, at the sacrifice of the colored races."45
Meanwhile, reduction of the pocket continued unabated. Tanks moved up to the front lines over paths cleared by the tank dozers which themselves frequently came under attack by individuals or small groups of Japanese bent on suicide. The slow but steady Marine advance into the gorge was carried out under the command of the assistant division commander, General Hermle, whom General Rockey had entrusted with operational control of all units engaged in the final mop-up at the gorge. From an observation post affording a clear view of the gorge, General Hermle directed the operation that would bring organized enemy resistance in this sector to an end.
On Chichi Jima, Major Horie learned with astonishment on 21 March that General Kuribayashi and his men were still fighting. The durable garrison commander reported that his cave was under direct attack by tanks and demolition teams. Of American attempts to induce his surrender he mentioned disdainfully that "they advised us to surrender by a loud-speaker, but we only laughed at this childish trick and did not set ourselves against them."46 Major Horie radioed to Iwo Jima the information that, effective 17 March, the Imperial government had promoted Kuribayashi to the rank of full general, Ichimaru to vice admiral, Inouye to rear admiral, and Nishi to full colonel. The two latter promotions were made posthumously, though most likely all of them were intended that way.
On D plus 30, 21 March, the 26th Marines, with 3/27 and 3/28 attached, continued the assault as 1/26 and 3/27 advanced into the gorge. At the rim, 3/28 held its positions. Fighting on this day, as on the preceding ones, was exceedingly bitter. The Japanese refused to yield; in fact, there no longer was any place for them to go but stand their ground and die. Thus, the Marines had to eliminate them one by one. As on an earlier occasion, it was noticed that many of the enemy were wearing Marine
uniforms and firing M-1 rifles. In the course of the day's advance, elements of 1/26 made gains of 200 yards down the gorge, but beyond that point required the support of flame tanks. It developed that the terrain did not permit their employment, so that portable flamethrowers were used until the Japanese shot the liquid out of the tanks. When his equipment was hit, one of the operators became a human torch and burned to death; another was just barely saved from suffering the same fate.
As D plus 30 ended, 1/28 had gained 400 yards at the edge of the cliff, while 2/28, after one of its patrols had eliminated 20 of the enemy, moved forward 100 yards to the very edge of the cliff. On this day, Major Horie received a message from Iwo Jima, informing him: "We have not eaten nor drunk for five days. But our fighting spirit is still running high."47 The end was now very near, yet the battle for Death Valley, a name Marines had given to the gorge, continued. In a situation where the orthodox arms and tactics of warfare proved unavailing, other means had to be improvised. In the words of one account:
The Marines tried everything in the book, and a good many things that weren't, to clean the Japs out of the gorge. Explosives were lowered over cliffs by rope to blast the Japs from their caves. Drums of gasoline were emptied into canyons and set afire. Over-sized rockets were hauled Up to the front on bulldozers and used to blow the Japs off hillsides. Aerial observers dropped grenades on enemy positions from their low-flying grasshoppers.
For four days men of the 5th Division tried to take Death Valley by direct assault, They failed, because any man who set foot in the gorge was dead.48
Still, some progress was apparent as one enemy defensive position after another was whittled away. On 22 March, 3/27, supported by tanks, tank dozers, and flame tanks, gained another 300 yards. On the following day, D plus 32, Major Horie received one final message from Iwo Jima which said: "All officers and men of Chichi Jima, good-bye."49 For three more days, Horie tried to communicate with Iwo Jima, but there was no answer and it was assumed that all resistance on the island had ended. This fact had already been mournfully announced over Tokyo Radio by the Japanese Prime Minister, who bemoaned the fall of the island as "the most unfortunate thing in the whole war situation."50
By 24 March, the backbone of enemy resistance in Death Valley had been broken, and the size of the pocket was down to a square of 50 by 50 yards. On the following day, D plus 32, exhausted Marines of 3/26 and 3/28 moved down into Death Valley and completed the task of mopping up, sealing caves and squeezing the enemy into an area that was no longer defensible. Still, individual Japanese held out until 25 March, when death-tired remnants of the 26th, 27th, and 28th Marines staggered into the gorge and silenced what remained of enemy resistance. At
1045 on D plus 34, the gorge was declared secured and fighting on northern Iwo officially came to an end.
Withdrawal of Marine units from Iwo Jima got under way on 17 March, when the VAC artillery completed embarkation. Artillery of the three divisions reembarked on subsequent days, except for 4/12, which stood by for several days, prepared to deliver fire on request. On 18 March, the 3d Marine Division relieved the 4th and General Cates closed his CP on Iwo Jima. On the same day, men of this division embarked. Two days later, the ships carrying the division departed from the island en route to their rehabilitation area in Hawaii. The arrival of the 147th Infantry Regiment on 20 March brought Army troops into the picture. The regiment was attached to General Erskine's division for operational control. As early as 7 March, General Chancy had assumed responsibility for base development and antiaircraft defense of all Iwo ground installations. He had delegated the air defense of Iwo Jima to General Moore effective that date. At 0800 on 26 March, General Chancy took over as Iwo Jima garrison commander, in effect assuming operational control of all units stationed on the island. General Moore continued as Air Defense Commander.
Just as it appeared that Iwo Jima was about to become a garrison, rather than a fiercely contested battlefield, the Japanese decided to strike a last blow against the invaders who by this time had victory all but within their grasp. Mopping up operations up to this time had continued daily in northern and central Iwo, and day and night individual Japanese had either been killed or captured. As a precautionary measure, a LCI(G) patrolled off the northwest beaches to prevent the escape of any of the enemy by water during the hours of darkness.
Early on 26 March, a force of between 200 and 300 Japanese moved down from the area near the Northern Airfield over a trail skirting the western coast of the island and launched z full-scale attack against Marine and Army units encamped near the western beaches. Far from executing a howling bazzai charge, the Japanese launched a well-organized attack which was carried out in echelon from three directions. Carefully calculated to achieve the maximum confusion and destruction, the Japanese set about to do their deadly work in silence. Beginning at 0515, and for more than three hours, the enemy ranged through the Marine and Army bivouacs, slashing tents, knifing sleeping airmen, and throwing grenades at random.
The units engaged and partly overrun were the 5th Pioneer Battalion, elements of the %h Field Depot, comprising the VAC Shore Party, the 98th Naval Construction Battalion, elements of the 21st Fighter Group, the 465th Aviation Squadron, and the 506th Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion. In the darkness, the fighting was confused and terrible. The chief difficulty, that of distinguishing between friend and enemy, was compounded by the fact that many of the attackers were armed with BARs, M-1 rifles, .45 caliber pistols, and one even with a bazooka. Other Japanese charged with their swords, a sure indication that a sizable part of the assault force consisted of officers.
OFFICER BIVOUAC AREA of the 21st Fighter Group following the Japanese attack of March 1945. Note bullet-marked tents. (USAF 47590 AC)
GENERAL VIEW of parking area on Motoyama Airfield No. 1 after its restoration. (USAF 57620 AC)
At the height of the attack, the Japanese penetrated to the Army 38th Field Hospital, where they tore out the telephone lines, slashed tents, and machine-gunned ambulances. In the midst of the prevailing turmoil, officers of the 5th Pioneer Battalion organized the first resistance, and there were instances of great personal heroism and sacrifice. Initially, a firing line was established in some foxholes. Subsequently, as the din of battle increased, other Marines arrived on the scene and Army flame tanks began to go into action. The 5th Pioneers organized a skirmish line and, for the first time, the enemy was forced to give ground. Joining in the action was anyone who had a weapon, including airmen, Seabees, Army medical personnel, and members of the Corps Shore Party. In fact, the performance of the latter Marines earned them a special commendation from their commanding officer who stated:
The Corps shore Party Commander is highly gratified with the performance of these colored troops, whose normal function is that of labor troops, while in direct action against the enemy for the first time. Proper security prevented their being taken unawares, and they conducted themselves with marked coolness and courage. Careful investigation shows that they displayed modesty in reporting their own part in the action.51
When it was all over, 196 Japanese littered the area of the 5th Pioneer Battalion alone; 66 of the raiders were killed in the adjacent areas and a total of 18 were captured. Rumor had it that General Kuribayashi had led the attack, and the efficiency with which it was carried out would lend some substance to the report. The 40 swords gathered up on the field of battle after the action gave evidence of the high percentage of officers and senior noncommissioned officers that participated. Years after the war, a Japanese who had been taken prisoner during this final attack and who had been subsequently repatriated, was to claim that one-legged Admiral Ichimaru had taken part in the charge. But a body count following the battle and examination of the bodies failed to identify either Kuribayashi, Ichimaru, or Ikeda, and their exact fate has never been determined.
The final Japanese attack also proved costly to the Americans in terms of casualties. The 5th Pioneers lost 9 killed and 31 wounded in this action; units of the VII Fighter Command had 44 killed and 88 wounded.52 At just about the time that the last of the enemy raiders were being killed off on western Iwo, the capture and occupation phase of the Iwo Jima operation was announced completed. As of 0800, 26 March, the Commander Forward Area, Central Pacific, Vice Admiral John H. Hoover, assumed responsibility for the defense and development of the island. General Schmidt closed his CP and departed from Iwo Jima by air shortly after noon. The remainder of his headquarters embarked on the USS President Monroe.
Embarkation of the remaining Marine units followed a schedule long
worked out in advance. Thus, elements of the 3d Marine Division began to embark on 27 March, when the 21st Marines and the division CP went aboard ship. The remainder of General Erskine's men departed on the return run of ships carrying garrison forces to Iwo. On 4 April, the Army's 147th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Robert F. Johnson, assumed full responsibility for the ground defense of the island and the 9th Marines prepared to embark. The last unit of General Erskine's division left Iwo on 12 April and arrived on Guam six days later. During the final phase of the operation between 11 and 26 March, the Marines had sustained a total of 3,8S5 casualties.53 Total Marine casualties for the Iwo Jima operation came to 25,851.54
The total number of Japanese who died in the defense of Iwo Jima has never been definitely established, but nearly the entire garrison went down fighting. As of 26 March, the Marines had taken only 216 prisoners,55 a large number of whom were Korean laborers. Nor did the fighting and dying on the island end with the departure of the VAC Landing Force. Aggressive patrols and ambuscades by the 147th Infantry Regiment continued throughout April and into May, resulting in additional Japanese killed and captured. Isolated enemy strongpoints continued to hold out and had to be reduced, some of them more than once.
During the first week of April, in an incident reminiscent of the unexpected enemy attack of 26 March, about 200 Japanese materialized just above the East Boat Basin, where they attempted to rush an infantry command post. This battle continued all night and all of the attackers were killed, but not before they had succeeded in exploding 6,000 cases of dynamite, which rocked the island and caused a number of casualties.56 Nor was this the end. Also during the month of April, Army troops stumbled upon the field hospital of the 2d Mixed Brigade, located 100 feet underground on eastern Iwo Jima. The surrender of the hospital proved to be somewhat complex, as outlined by this account:
A language officer appealed to the Japanese to come out, After a long discussion, the senior medical officer, Major Masaru Inoaka, called for a vote. The ballot turned out sixty-nine for surrender, 3 opposed. Of the three nays, Corporal Kyutaro Kojima immediately committed suicide. The others came out, including two more medical officers, Captain Iwao Noguchi and Lieutenant Hideo Ota. Captain Noguchi, beset by remorse that he had lived while so many died, later emigrated to Brazil, unable to accept life in Japan.57
For the remainder of April and May, members of the 147th Infantry Regiment
accounted for 1,602 Japanese killed and 867 captured.58 As the fighting and dying gradually subsided, the utilization of the island as a forward base went into high gear. But even as bulldozers tore across ground that had previously been so bitterly contested and aviation gas was beginning to reach Iwo in large quantities, three large Marine Corps cemeteries remained to offer a mute eulogy to the men who had fought and died there. Arriving on Iwo Jima on 20 April 1945, one eminent Navy historian counted 5,330 graves in the Marine Corps cemeteries, but, in his own words:
. . . there were about 31,000 soldiers, Air Force ground crews and Seabees on the island, very much alive, healthy and in high spirits. Army officers said they wouldn't trade Iwo for any South Pacific island.59
There were many who would pay tribute to the heroism of the Marines who captured this key bastion of the Japanese inner defense ring, bristling with the most powerful defenses a clever and crafty enemy could devise. None of them put it better than Admiral Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, who made this comment:
The battle of Iwo Island has been won. The United States Marines by their individual and collective courage have conquered a base which is as necessary to us in our continuing forward movement toward final victory as it was vital to the enemy in staving off ultimate defeat. By their victory the Third, Fourth and Fifth Marine Divisions and other units of the Fifth Amphibious Corps have made an accounting to their country which only history will be able to value fully. Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island uncommon valor was a common virtue.60
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (VI-10) * Next Chapter (VI-12)
1. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this chapter is derived from: TF 51 AR; VAC SAR; VAC G-2 Rpts; VAC C-3 Jnl; VAC Translations; 3d MarDiv AR; 3d MarDiv D-2 Jnl; 3d MarDiv G-2 PerRpts; 3d MarDiv G-3 PerRpts; 4th MarDiv OpRpt; 4th MarDiv D-3 Jnl; 4th MarDiv D-3 PerRpts; 4th MarDiv Translations; 5th MarDiv AR; 5th MarDiv D-1 Jnl; 5th MarDiv D-2 Jnl; 5th MarDiv D-2 PerRpts; 5th MarDiv D-3 Jnl; 5th MarDiv Casualty Rpts; Horie Rpt; Bartley, Iwo Monograph; Iwo Comments; Morehouse, Iwo Jima Campaign; Newcomb, Iwo Jima; Newcomb Notes; Morison, Victory in the Pacific; Henri et al, Marines on Iwo Jima; Isely and Crowl, U.S. Marines and Amphibious War; Leckie, Strong Men Armed; Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass; Aurthur and Cohlmia, The Third Marine Division; Proehl, The Fourth Marine Division; Conner, The Fifth Marine Division; Hayashi and Coox, Kogun.
2. Additional material in this section is derived from: 9th Mar URpts; 9th Mar UJnl; 9th Mar AR; 21st Mar AR, Iwo Jima, 23Jan-16Mar45, dtd 10Apr45, hereafter 21st Mar AR; 21st Mar UJnl; 21st Mar URpts; 1/9 AR; 2/9 AR; 3/9 AR; 1/21 AR, Iwo Jima, 29Jan-26Mar45, dtd 6Apr45, hereafter 1/21 AR; 2/21 AR, Iwo Jima, 30 Jan-24Mar45, dtd 12 Apr45, hereafter 2/21 AR; 3/21 AR, Iwo Jima, 15Jan-16Mar45, dtd 11Apr45, hereafter 3/21 AR; 1/23 OpRpt; 3d TkBn AR.
3. 3d TkBn AR, 11Mar45.
4. Ibid., 12Mar45.
5. Aurthur and Cohlmia, The Third Marine Division, pp. 246-247.
6. 9th Mar AR, p. 6.
7. Ibid., p. 7.
8. 2/9 AR, p. 3.
9. Bartley, Iwo Monograph, p. 181.
10. 2/9 AR, p. 3.
11. Henri et al, Marines on Iwo Jima, p. 231.
12. Ibid., p. 232,
13. Ibid., pp. 250-251.
14. VAC OpO No. 23-45 with changes, dtd 15Mar45.
15. 3d MarDiv G-3 PerRpt No. 31, dtd 16Mar45.
16. Newcomb, Iwo Jima, p. 267.
17. Additional material in this section is derived from: 23d Mar OpRpt; 24th Mar OpRpt; 25th Mar UJnl; 25th Mar OpRpt; 14th Mar OpRpt; 1/23 OpRpt; 2/23 OpRpt; 2/24 OpRpt; 1/25 OpRpt; 2/25 OpRpt; 3/25 OpRpt.
18. 4th MarDiv D-2 PerRpt No. 68, dtd 11Mar45.
19. 4th MarDiv OpRpt, p. 50.
20. For a detailed breakdown of General Senda's military career, see Japanese Defense Agency Comment.
21. 4th MarDiv OpRpt, p. 53.
22. Ibid., p. 58.
23. Additional material in this section is derived from: TF 56 OpRpt; 26th Mar AR; 27th Mar UJnl; 27th Mar AR; 28th Mar R-2 Jnl; 28th Mar AR; 18th Mar AR; 1/26 AR; 2/26 AR; 3/26 UJnl; 3/26 AR; 3/27 UJnl; 3/27 AR.
24. Conner, The Fifth Marine Division, p. 107.
25. 5th MarDiv AR, p. 26.
26. 5th MarDiv D-2 PerRpt No. 22, dtd 12Mar45.
27. Newcomb, Iwo Jima, pp. 270-271.
28. 5th MarDiv AR, p. 27.
29. The VAC chief of staff recalled that "while the ceremony of raising the flag was in progress near VAC headquarters, the ground was shaking around us from the bombardment of the unsecured area by nearby Corps artillery." Rogers ltr.
30. TF 56 OpRpt, pp. 10-11.
31. 5th Mardiv AR, p. 27.
33. Horie Rpt, p. 10,
34. 5th MarDiv AR, p. 28,
35. Conner, The Fifth Marine Division, p. 113.
36. Ibid., p. 114.
37. Additional material in this section is derived from: 1/28 AR; 2/28 AR; 5/28 AR; 5th Pioneer Bn UJnl, 7-23Mar45; U.S. Army Forces in the Pacific Ocean Areas Rpt, Iwo Jima, Feb-Mar45, dtd 4Feb46; VAC Shore Party AR; Clive Howard and Joe Whitley, One Damned Island After Another (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press), 1946.
38. 5th MarDiv AR, p. 29,
39. VAC G-2 Rpts, pp. 19, 20.
40. Horie Rpt, p. 11.
42. Conner, The Fifth Marine Division, p. 117.
43. Newcomb, Iwo Jima, p. 281,
44. Newcomb, Iwo Jima, p. 272.
45. Admiral Ichimaru ltr to President Roosevelt, n.d., in Morehouse, Iwo Jima Campaign, pp. 172-173. This letter was found by Marines in a cave in the northern part of Iwo Jima; the original reposes in the museum of the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md.
46. Horie Rpt, p. 11,
47. Ibid., p. 12.
48. Henri et al, Marines on Iwo Jima, p. 303.
49. Horie Rpt, p. 12.
50. Radio address by Premier Kuniaki Koiso, 17 Mar45, as cited in Newcomb, Iwo Jima, p. 274.
51. Shore Party AR, dtd 30Apr45, in VAC AR, App 10, Anx C, p. 13.
52. VAC G-3 PerRpt No. 35 dtd 26 Mar45; 5th Pioneer Bn AR, Iwo Jima, 27 Mar45, p. 2.
53. Broken down by divisions, these casualties were as follows: 3d Marine Division: 147 killed, 60 died of wounds, 505 wounded, and 53 combat fatigue; 4th Marine Division: 139 killed, 87 dead of wounds, 442 wounded, and 52 combat fatigue; 5th Marine Division: 467 killed, 168 died of wounds, 1,640 wounded, 3 missing, and 122 combat fatigue. Above figures derived from HQMC postwar statistics.
54. A detailed breakdown of Marine casualties by unit is shown in Appendix H.
55. VAC G-2 PerRpt No. 35, dtd 9Apr45.
56. Headquarters, Army Garrison Force G-2 Weekly Rpt No. 2, dtd 8Apr45, as cited in Morison, Victory in the Pacific, pp. 69-70.
57. Newcomb, Iwo Jima, p. 287.
58. Headquarters, 147th Infantry Regiment, Report of Operations Against the Enemy, Iwo Jima, dtd 11Jun45, as cited in Bartley, Iwo Monograph, p. 193.
59. Morison, Victory in the Pacific, p. 70.
60. Pacific Fleet Communique No. 300, dtd 17 Mar45.