Airfield Development and Activities Behind the Lines1
While three Marine divisions were inching their way northward against tenacious resistance, an equally difficult battle was being fought to the rear of the combat troops. Aside from the Japanese who, particularly during the early days of the operation, were able to blanket any part of the island with artillery and mortar fire, the biggest enemy was the time factor. The basic premise on which the entire operation had been planned was to secure the two southernmost airfields on the island as quickly as possible, and it was for this purpose that Marines up front were hourly giving their lives. Unless the airfields could be quickly put into operation, the sacrifice of these Marines would serve little, if any, purpose.
Reconstruction of the Airfields2
On D plus 5, men of the 31st Naval Construction Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Dominick J. Ermilio, began work on the southern airfield. This job initially had been assigned to the 133d Naval Construction
Battalion under Lieutenant Commander Raymond P. Murphy, but the battalion had suffered such heavy casualties on D-Day that it was still undergoing reorganization four days later. While, to the north, the battle for Airfield No. 2 was in progress, the Seabees, with riflemen covering them, were crawling up the runway of No. 1 Airfield on hands and knees, probing for mines and picking up the most jagged shell fragments that could wreak havoc with the rubber tires of aircraft.
Throughout the day, the Seabees and elements of the VAC 2d Separate Engineer Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles O. Clark, sifted the dirt on the runways, often under enemy sniper and artillery fire. By late afternoon of 25 February, the engineers had filled, bladed, and rolled 1,500 feet of the north-south runway of Airfield No. 1, which was then ready for use by small aircraft. This was the scene that took place at the airfield on the following day:
Down on Airfield No. 1 the first planes came in, two little OY-1s of the 4th Division (VMO-4), their wheels kicking up spurts of dust as they touched down. Dirty engineers and Seabees lined the runway and cheered as the little spotter planes rolled to a stop. The Grasshoppers (Stinson Sentinels), or "Maytag Messerschmitts," stayed only a few minutes and then took off again, to fly over Turkey Knob and the Amphitheater to spot targets for the 4th Division. As they left, the first of the 133d Seabees' rollers and scrapers climbed up onto the runway. After a week of fighting, and heavy casualties, and reorganization, the 133d was ready to start on the job it had come for.3
Once the first spotter aircraft had flown in from the escort carrier Wake Island, others followed in rapid succession. By 1 March, 16 planes of VMO-4 and -5 had reached the island. Since the airstrip was still under enemy artillery and mortar fire, many of the small planes sustained damage which had to be patched up in frantic efforts. Of the seven aircraft which VMO-4 brought ashore, six eventually were so badly damaged that they had to be surveyed after the end of the operation.
Completion of the first 1,500-foot strip of Airfield No. 1 was but the initial step in the restoration of the entire field. The 2d Separate Engineer Battalion was charged with the reconstruction of the north-south and northwest-southeast runways, while the 62d Naval Construction Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Frank B. Campbell, was responsible for rebuilding the northeast-southwest runway. Quarries available on the island yielded an excellent sand-clay fill that could be used for the construction of roads and was widely utilized in rehabilitating and extending Airfield No. 1. In fact, it was the use of this material that had made possible the early completion of the short strip for the land-based observation planes.
Good progress was made in restoring the airfield, except for the hours of darkness and those times when the enemy took the field under fire. On the last day of February, Airfield No. 1 invited emergency landings by carrier aircraft. This offer was promptly accepted by a damaged torpedo bomber. From this time on, the popularity of
HOLY COMMUNION during Mass atop Mt. Suribachi. (USMC 110322)
FIRST MARINE OBSERVATION PLANE lands on Motoyama Airfield No. 1 (USMC 110595)
the airfield among carrier pilots rapidly increased. By 2 March, a 4,700-foot runway had been completed and the first air transport, a R4D of Air Evacuation Squadron 2, departed with 12 wounded Marines on board. Noting increased activity on the newly restored airfield, the enemy concentrated his artillery fire on the strip. For the remainder of the day, the field remained inoperative, but subsequent evacuation flights became an almost daily occurrence without any further serious enemy interference.
A new milestone was reached during the afternoon of 4 March, when a B-29 bomber, returning from an air attack against the Japanese homeland, made a forced landing, refueled, and continued on its return flight. This was only the first of hundreds of the giant B-29s which were to make emergency landings on the island for the remainder of the war.
As early as 28 February, planes of the Army Air Forces 9th Troop Carrier Squadron had dropped more than 9,000 pounds of supplies near the western beaches. Beginning 1 March, airdrops were made over the southern airfield. The cargo dropped consisted of badly needed 81mm mortar shells, medical supplies, radio gear, and mail. Work on the two short runways was completed on 4 March. On this date, the first Marine transport, a R5C, piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm S. Mackay, commanding VMR-952, landed on the island. The aircraft, carrying 5,500 pounds of badly needed mortar shells and ammunition from Guam, had stopped at Saipan before continuing the flight to Iwo, Once Airfield No. 1 had become operational, a variety of aircraft could be brought into the island. The value of Iwo Jima was further enhanced when, on 12 March, the 5,800-foot strip was completed. By this time, landings and takeoffs on Airfield No. 1 had become a daily occurrence.
In addition to the aircraft using the southern airfield for bringing in supplies and evacuating the wounded, fighter planes were needed to assist the ground forces fighting on Iwo. Their mission was both an offensive and a defensive one. On the one hand, the fighters had to give the closest support possible to Marines fighting on the ground. Their second mission, of no less importance, was to make continuous sweeps over Japanese islands in the vicinity of Iwo to preclude any reinforcement of the Iwo garrison, and at the same time to eliminate any Japanese air power still remaining in the Bonins. Above all, the enemy had to be prevented from interfering with the progress of the Iwo ground operation or with the numerous supply ships standing by offshore.
During the first two weeks of the Iwo Jima operation, Colonel Vernon E. Megee acted as the Commander, Landing Force Air Control Unit. In this capacity, he came ashore on 24 February but did not assume control of support aircraft until 1 March, at which time he also became Commander Air, Iwo Jima. The establishment of these functions ashore greatly facilitated coordination and control of fire support for VAC,4 particularly since Colonel Megee, using forward observers, developed a
system of close air support controlled from VAC Headquarters.5
This proved to be a very busy time for the representative of Marine aviation, who was to reminisce later:
You see, I had a dual status there really. In fact, I stayed Commander there even - let me see, we were supposed to have an Air Force Brigadier for that job but he never showed up until a couple of weeks after the landing and during the interim I was the Air Commander, Iwo Jima. . . . And I had air defense responsibility and the logistical responsibilities during that time so I was like the proverbial paper hanger with the itch.6
On 6 March, Brigadier General Ernest Moore, USA, arrived on Iwo to assume his duties as air commander. With him came an initial complement of 28 P-51 Mustang fighters and 12 P-61 Black Widow night fighters of the 15th Fighter Group. On 8 and 9 March, the forward echelon of VMTB-242 arrived from Tinian. This squadron, commanded by Major William W. Dean, began to fly air defense missions around Iwo Jima day and night. Based on the southern airfield, the bomber squadron also relieved carrier aircraft of antisubmarine patrol missions. After 23 days of well executed and strenuous operations, the Support Carrier Group departed from Iwo.7
On 11 March, 15 of the Iwo-based P-51 fighters launched their first attack against nearby Chichi Jima. This was only the first raid of many to follow. Throughout the assault and occupation phase, Army Air Forces bombers based in the Marianas conducted day and night raids against Haha and Chichi Jima with two raids being directed against enemy positions on Iwo Jima in general support of our forces. Aircraft from the Support Carrier Group, while it was still in the Iwo area, in addition to their numerous daily local commitments, also flew several strikes against Haha and Chichi Jima. Once the southern airfield became operational, an increasingly large number of B-29s sought refuge on the island while returning from raids over Japan, often in a precarious condition. By 14 March, D plus 23, 24 of the giant bombers had made emergency landings on the island,8 often under the very noses of the enemy still holding out in northern Iwo.
Even as Airfield No. 1 was becoming operational and the number of aircraft using its facilities increased, first steps were under way to restore the second
B-29 SUPERFORTRESS, the first of many, makes emergency landing on Iwo Jima. (USAF 57073 AC)
4TH MARINE DIVISION observation post near wrecked enemy aircraft at northern end of Motoyama Airfield No. 1. (USMC 110251)
airfield. Since the field, shortly to become known as the Central Airfield, was still under enemy fire during the latter part of February and early March, little could be done by way of actual reconstruction. As a first step, an abundance of mines and booby traps, which the enemy had left behind, had to be cleared, an unenviable task that was handled by the 2d Bomb Disposal Company, a Marine unit specializing in the removal of mines and duds. The company had already performed a similar job creditably at the southern airfield before restoration could get under way. By 16 March, the Central Airfield had been restored to a point where it also became operational. It featured one strip graded to 5,200 feet, another to 4,800 feet.9
As the assault phase on Iwo Jima came to a close, attention turned to the execution of plans for the development of the island as an important air base. To this end, once the objective was secured, a naval construction brigade was organized and additional construction units were employed. Original plans for the development of Iwo Jima had called for three airfields and installations to accommodate the garrison. The fields were to be designed to handle up to 90 B-29s daily, as well as five groups of escort fighters. The Central Airfield was to be utilized for staging Superfortresses en route from the Marianas to Japan. Airfields No. 1 and 3 were to serve fighters and smaller bombers. Alternate plans, however, were more ambitious than the earlier ones and eventually it was anticipated that the Central Field would be turned into one huge complex featuring two B-29 strips, two fighter strips, and a combat service center. It was finally decided that once the island was secured, the North and Central Fields would be combined, covering more than four square miles, just about half of the surface of the island.10
In rebuilding the Iwo Jima airfields, the engineers ran into complex and exasperating problems. Because of the recent volcanic origin of Iwo, laying out the runways or putting in subsurface gasoline lines became a very difficult undertaking when steam pockets or sulphur laden crevasses were encountered. Construction of runways on the volcanic rock also posed a major problem and it became necessary to put the naval construction units on a schedule of two 10-hour shifts daily.11
By mid-July, the first B-29 runway had been paved to its full length of 9,800 feet. The second strip had been graded to 9,400 feet by the end of the war but was never resurfaced. The old runway, running from west to east, became a 6,000-foot fueling strip. The fighter strip on Number 1 Airfield was eventually paved to 6,000 feet and was equipped with 7,940 feet of taxiways and 258 hardstands. The rough terrain in the area of the northern strip delayed construction, so that by the end of the war it had been paved to 5,500 feet for the use of fighters; in addition, some 10,000 feet of taxiway had been graded. Two large tank farms and facilities at each field took care of the supply of fuel.
The utilization of Iwo Jima as a fighter base was to be greatly affected by the overall war situation, The reduction of enemy air strength in Japan proper proceeded so rapidly during the late spring and early summer of 1945 that in time fighter escorts from Iwo were no longer required for the B-29s. Nevertheless, some 1,191 escort sorties were to be flown from Iwo, as well as 3,081 strike sorties against enemy targets in Japan.12 The primary use to which the airfields on the island were put was as an intermediate landing point, particularly for big B-29s in distress. By the time the war came to an end, about 2,400 of the giant bombers had made emergency landings on Iwo runways, involving a total of 25,000 airmen.
A combination of enemy fire, deep volcanic ash, and heavy surf resulted in grave supply problems during the Iwo Jima operation. The early phase, in particular, became a nightmare for the Navy beach parties and the Marine shore parties. In the days following the initial landings, the main emphasis was on meeting the urgent requirements of the combat troops. The supplies brought ashore in LVTs and DUKWs often were sent directly inland without any rehandling on the beaches. For the first five days, until roads capable of supporting wheeled vehicles could be utilized, LVTs, DUKWs, and the versatile Weasels took care of transporting the bulk of supplies from the beaches to the inland dumps.
Logistics, Rear Installations, and News Coverage13
The landing of ammunition and supplies took place under extremely difficult conditions. Heavy swells caused extensive broaching of landing craft. With each wave, boats were picked up bodily and thrown broadside of the beach, where succeeding waves swamped and broached numerous landing craft. Other craft in succession hit the wrecks already beginning to pile up on the beaches until considerable wreckage had accumulated. The LSTs and LSMs sent to the beaches once the beachhead was secured also had great difficulty in keeping from broaching. Tugs were in constant attendance to tow them clear. Since unloading continued day and night, the beach parties had to work around the clock.
In order to facilitate getting supplies to the combat troops, Marston matting and armored bulldozers were utilized on the beaches. The matting was of tremendous value in overcoming the obstacle created by the soft volcanic ash on the landing beaches. The armored bulldozers, equipped with steel plates to protect both the driver and the machine, were employed on the beaches to level sand terraces and carve out
exits. When fighting shifted to the northern part of the island, several bulldozers were used to cut roads through the rocky gorges characteristic of northern Iwo, notably in the 5th Marine Division zone of advance.
In discussing the value of the Marston matting and the armored bulldozers, the Commander of the Attack Force Beach Party Group, Captain Carl E. Anderson, USNR, pointed out that these two items of equipment:
. . . contributed materially to the success of the landing and the moving of heavy equipment off the beaches, which could not have otherwise been accomplished without almost insurmountable hardship.14
The pioneer battalions were the basic component of their respective division shore parties. The 133d and 31st Naval Construction Battalions provided equipment operators and cargo handlers for the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions. In addition, the Army's 442d and 592d Port Companies, assigned to the 4th and 5th Divisions respectively, and Marine service and supply units were given special tasks within the shore party organizations. Invaluable service was also rendered by the three Army DUKW companies which, like the port companies, were Negro units. Replacement drafts furnished the largest source of labor for ships platoons and shore details, though their subsequent integration into the depleted combat units left much to be desired. As of D plus 3, units of the 8th Field Depot went ashore and were assigned to assist the divisional shore parties, which were becoming depleted from casualties and fatigue.
There were slow but steady signs of progress. On D plus 6, the day that General Erskine launched his drive up the center of Iwo, engineers of the 5th Marine Division began the operation of the first water distillation plant on the West coast. Cognizant of the geological characteristics that were peculiar to the island, the engineers drove intake pipes into the natural springs. The water emerging from the ground was so hot that it had to be cooled with sea water. One of the first amenities of civilization, the hot shower, thus became a welcome arrival on the island.
On the same day, the VAC Shore Party assumed control of all shore party activities, a further indication that the situation on the beaches was stabilizing. The general unloading of cargo ships on the eastern beaches now got under way. As large quantities of supplies began to reach the shore, it soon became evident that additional beaches on the west coast of the island would have to be utilized. Preliminary surveys had indicated that conditions on the west coast were suitable for beaching LCTs and smaller craft. By D plus 8, beach exits and roads had been constructed on western Iwo. Simultaneously, a number of beaches, designated as Purple, Brown, White, and Orange, were established.
The Japanese, increasingly compelled to watch the beehive of activity along the eastern shore in helpless frustration, saw an opportunity to interfere with operations on the western beaches. On 1 March, an ammunition resupply ship, the Columbia Victory, was approaching
the west coast with a cargo of artillery ammunition when mortar fire from Kama and Kangoku Rocks, as well as northwestern Iwo, bracketed the vessel. One shell exploded so close to the ship that it wounded one man and caused light damage to the vessel. Anxious eyes were watching the Japanese artillery fire, including those of Generals Holland Smith and Schmidt, who viewed the action from VAC headquarters on the west beach. More than the loss of a ship was involved. If the Columbia Victory's cargo of ammunition blew up, the entire west coast of Iwo could go with it, along with thousands of Marines working on the beaches. Keenly aware of the danger, the cargo ship reversed course and, miraculously evading additional near misses, headed back out to the open sea.15
As a result of enemy interference, the western beaches could not be opened until D plus 11, when Purple 2 went into operation. By 3 March, all assault shipping had been unloaded and retired from Iwo Jima, and Garrison Force Zero began to discharge its cargo. This element consisted of troops of the garrison force, commanded by Major General James E. Chancy, USA. The Zero echelon had been embarked in additional shipping to arrive at the objective on call after the assault ships, but prior to the first echelon garrison ships.16 General Chancy, together with his staff and elements of the Army's 147th Infantry Regiment and men of the 7th Fighter Command, had already gone ashore on D plus 8 as the advance echelon of Army ground and aviation troops that would play an important part in garrisoning the island. Meanwhile, the Army 506th Antiaircraft Battalion, having landed on D plus 6, was firing its 90mm guns at Kama and Kangoku Rocks off the west coast, from which the enemy had harassed the Columbia Victory. Men of the 5th Marine Division advancing up the west coast had already become the target of mortar and rocket fire from these islets.
While the Marines in the front lines were pitting their bodies against a cruel and remorseless enemy, the battle to save lives was being waged with equal devotion in the rear. American skill at improvisation, coupled with determination and medical know-how, were destined to save many lives. On Purple Beach on the west coast, a Navy evacuation hospital opened on the evening of D plus 6 with a capacity of 200 beds. At the 4th Marine Division hospital, located at the northern tip of the southern airfield, 17 doctors, operating in four surgical teams, worked around the clock. The Army's 38th Field Hospital, consisting of 22 officers and 182 enlisted men, came ashore on 25 February. Working together with the Navy medical facilities, it was to make a major contribution in providing medical care to the wounded in the days to come. Hospital facilities on Iwo were further supplemented when the 5th Marine Division Hospital went into operation at the southern tip of Airfield No. 1.
In order to provide the best possible care for the wounded, time was of the essence. This applied particularly to the
availability of blood at the company medical aid stations. Blood plasma had been used in earlier operations, where its life-saving capabilities had already become legend. On Iwo Jima fresh whole blood, recently drawn on the west coast of the United States, packed in ice and airlifted directly to the scene of action was used with excellent effects. Initially, whole blood was flown in by seaplane to a base established near Mount Suribachi at the southeastern tip of Iwo. Use of the seaplane base continued until 8 March, at which time it was decommissioned and the seaplanes, which had also been used to conduct rescues at sea, were returned to Saipan.
Once the southern airfield became operational, whole blood was flown into Iwo by casualty evacuation planes. Up to D plus 25, a total of 960 pints had been flown in. Additional supplies of blood plasma were obtained from the hospital ships. Before the Iwo operation came to a close, the Landing Force had used up 5,406 pints of whole blood. The total used for the care of the Iwo casualties up to this date amounted to 12,600 pints.17
Before the Iwo Jima operation ended, Army and Marine air transports, consisting of C-46s and C-47s, airdropped 78 tons of supplies and delivered another 40 tons by air freight. The cargo planes involved were from the Army Air Forces 9th Troop Carrier Squadron and Marine VMR-253, -353, and -952.18
On D plus 9, the hospital LSTs, which thus far had provided emergency treatment for the wounded, were released and left the area, fully loaded with casualties. At this time, shore-based medical facilities took over the task of caring for the wounded. Serious cases were subsequently evacuated directly from the beach to hospital ships and transports. By D plus 14, more than 9,500 casualties had been evacuated to rear areas by transports and hospital ships, not counting another 125 evacuated by air.19 Plans called for the evacuation of the wounded to Saipan, where 1,500 beds were available and to Guam, which had beds for 3,500.20 From the Marianas, the casualties were to be transported to Hawaii by such surface ships as were available and by air as the condition of the men permitted.
Part of the activities carried on in the rear involved the collection and burial of the dead. This task was performed by service troops, often under extremely hazardous conditions, since the dead were in close proximity to the front lines. Carrying parties often became the target of enemy small arms and mortar fire. The ever present specter of death on Iwo Jima was to give rise to this description by a veteran of the battle:
As the struggle in the dust of Iwo Jima, in the rocks and ravines, continued night and day, the act of war became a monotony of horror, a boredom of agony and death; it became a way of life, a task, a burden,
a work that was repetitious, galling to the body and mind.
Death was so commonplace as to be without interest to the living, for the living were resigned to it. They no longer expected to survive. Fear was not of death, but of mutilation. And there was no end to this; no end to mutilating wounds.21
Because of the heavy casualties during the Iwo operation, burial of the dead posed a special problem. Disposition of the dead was the responsibility of the 4th Marine Division burial officer, Captain Lewis Nutting, who occupied a dual position as VAC burial officer. Headquarters personnel, and especially members of the division band, performed this sad but necessary duty, which in time became a never-ending chore, as outlined here:
All day long, men carried litters to the field and placed them in neat rows. Two men passed along the rows, taking fingerprints, if the right index finger remained. Other men picked up one dog tag from each body, leaving the other for burial. If there were neither hands nor dog tags, and often there were not, the teams tried to establish identification by means of teeth, scars, tattoos, birthmarks, clothing stencils, jewelry, or uniform marks. Sometimes there was so little left that it was necessary to ascertain which section of the battlefield the body came from in order to determine to which unit the man had belonged.
When a row was ready, the bodies were wrapped in blankets or ponchos and placed in a trench. The bulldozer covered them with 6 feet of Iwo Jima sand, and a grader spread clay on top to keep it from blowing away. The sounds of battle off to the north were ignored. Since D plus 3, Captain Nutting's unit had suffered five casualties of its own. Even in the cemetery there was no security.22
The Japanese, on their part, appeared reluctant to abandon their dead on the field, presumably not for sentimental reasons but in order to keep the advancing American forces from becoming aware of the true extent of the enemy losses. As a result, frequently under cover of darkness, Japanese carrying parties sneaked into the battle area and removed the dead. Where the disposition of bodies proved impractical, the enemy burned his dead or buried them in pillboxes.
As the campaign progressed, the efficiency of the landing force organization increased. Improved coordination of air, naval gunfire, and artillery was achieved through the VAC artillery officer, Colonel John S. Letcher, who already had worked out detailed guidelines back in Hawaii with the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions.23 In close teamwork with members of the Landing Force Air Support Control Unit and the corps air and naval gunfire officers, Letcher screened requests for supporting fires with members of the three division artillery regiments. Some of the members of this coordinating group continued to function on board the Auburn even after corps headquarters had gone ashore on 24 February. On the other hand, Colonel Letcher left the
155MM GUN on Iwo Jima at moment of firing. (USMC 110636)
MARINE ROCKET TRUCKS furnishing fire support for advancing infantry. (USMC 111100)
Auburn at 1430 that date and half an hour later went ashore, where he remained until the operation had ended.
Along with the demands of the situation, there were changes in the organization of the shipping that stood by off Iwo Jima. A new type of logistic vessel, the small craft tender, was introduced here. This vessel was a self-propelled barracks ship, later designated as the APB. Two of these vessels were employed at Iwo Jima on an experimental basis. Actually, the vessels were LSTs converted to meet the needs of the numerous small craft employed around the island with insufficient endurance for long voyages and long periods at objectives. In order to effectively support the small craft, the converted LSTs each carried about 225 tons of frozen and dry provisions, 120,000 gallons of water, and about 235,000 gallons of fuel; they had berthing facilities for 40 transient officers and 300 men, a sick bay for 14 patients, and messing arrangements for 750 men on a round-the-clock basis. The ships serviced by these tenders at Iwo included destroyers, destroyer escorts, destroyer minesweepers, landing ships, minelayers, patrol and landing craft, minesweepers, submarine chasers, and rescue tugs. From 19 February through 7 March, the two APBs refueled and rewatered 54 vessels and reprovisioned 76.24
The above does not by far represent the total accomplishment of the two vessels, whose performance was to lead to the following observation:
Perhaps the best thing of all was the way the tenders mothered the landing boats and their crews. Many of these were caught at the beach when their own ships moved out of sight. Many were temporarily disabled, some lost. These tenders berthed a total of 2,500 officers and men, and fed 4,000 on the scale of one man, 1 day. It was a great help to a tired and hungry boat crew to have a place to eat and sleep. The tenders did not carry landing-craft spares or repair facilities. The principal part of the maintenance and repair work at Iwo was done by 3 landing ships (dock), 3 repair ships, 1 diesel repair ship, and 1 landing-craft repair ship. The job was no small one, totaling work on 30 landing ships (tank), 3 destroyers, 5 attack transports, 1 net ship, and numerous landing boats. It has been said that every small boat used in landing on beaches had sustained damage of some sort, many of them more than once. The LSDs worked 24 hours a day on repairs. The divers of the repair ships practically lived in diving suits from sunrise to 10 or 11 o'clock at night clearing propellers and doing underwater repair and salvage work.25
An account of developments on and around Iwo Jima would not be complete without mention of the 3d Marines. This regiment, commanded by Colonel James A. Stuart, constituted the Expeditionary Troops Reserve. As early as D plus 9, 28 February, both Generals Schmidt and Erskine had requested commitment of this reserve to lend impetus to the lagging drive up the center of the island.26 This request was made at a time when the landing
force already had sustained crippling casualties, and the loss of manpower, coupled with exhaustion of the men, was beginning to seriously impair the combat efficiency of all three Marine divisions committed on Iwo Jima. Despite the energetic efforts on the part of VAC to get the 3d Marines landed, General Holland Smith felt compelled to repeat the argument of Admiral Turner, Commander of the Joint Expeditionary Force, that the number of troops already ashore was sufficient to complete the capture of the island and that the employment of an additional regiment would only add to the congestion.27 This contention was to be strongly disputed by the VAC operations officer who was to make this comment:
It was my considered opinion while on Iwo Jima, having visited all parts of the island in our hands, and keeping in close touch with the situation, that the 3d Marine Regiment could have been landed without in any way overcrowding the island. Commitment of this well trained and experienced regiment would have shortened the campaign and saved us casualties.28
The pros and cons of committing the 3d Marines were to spark a controversy that has remained unresolved more than two decades later. Members of the landing force still consider with bitterness that "commitment of a fresh regiment at that time would have cheered up the exhausted troops ashore and would have permitted the final capture of Iwo Jima in much less time and with far fewer casualties."29 According to one analysis of the situation:
The consequences of using battle replacements rather than landing the infantrymen of the Third Regiment and shortening the fronts of the units in the line are, in retrospect, evident. Completing the assault was delayed. Key personnel in the front lines were unduly exposed, and casualties relative to the resistance encountered began to increase both among regular infantrymen and among the battle replacements.30
In almost all respects, the conversion of Iwo Jima into an American military base was influenced by the small physical size of the island. There were no buildings, roads, wooded areas, fields, or streams. But above all, there was little room in the rear area, such as there was. Always close to the front lines and never more than two or three miles to the rear, the airfields, gun positions, supply dumps, and troops occupied virtually every inch of the island.
The lack of space in the rear had its effect as much on the location of medical facilities as it did on the headquarters of the three divisions operating on the island and VAC headquarters. The medical organizations dispersed their units into such areas
AIR VIEW OF Iwo Jima beachhead on D plus 11. (USMC 112223)
SHORE PARTIES prepare to haul supplies to the front line. (USMC 109635)
as were allotted "and with the help of the ubiquitous bulldozer literally dug themselves a place on the island."31 Portable plywood operating rooms were set up in holes in the ground and covered with tarpaulins to keep out the dust and cold. The engineers built roofs over sunken water reservoirs which made good operating rooms. Ward tents were set up in airplane revetments or simply in long trenches bulldozed in the ground. The electric lights went in, the field surgical units were set up, the blood bank moved ashore, and by the time the transports left, a system of excellent surgical facilities was in operation.
In his memoirs, General Holland Smith recalled his impression of the command posts on Iwo Jima which he had occasion to inspect:
I went ashore every second day, calling on Harry Schmidt at V Corps Headquarters, or on Rockey, Cates, and Erskine at their Command Posts, and going forward to watch the progress of the fighting. None of these Command Posts was the Hotel Splendide the invading general seizes for himself and his staff in fictional war. Cates' post, overlooking the sea near the fortified quarry, was a knocked-out Japanese pillbox, where the smell of decomposing enemy dead, buried in the ruins, grew more loathsome every day. Erskine, just south of Motoyama Airfield Two, occupied an abandoned Japanese gun emplacement, with a tarpaulin slung over a 4.7-inch dual purpose gun. Over on the left, Rockey had a ramshackle place up against a cliff, where the Japanese had been flushed out recently.32
Supply of the landing force was a highly complex operation. Thus, the average daily expenditure of artillery ammunition right up to the final phase of the campaign, exceeded 23,000 rounds daily. Enough ammunition of various types was unloaded across the beaches to fill 480 freight cars, plus enough food to feed the entire city of Columbus, Ohio, for an entire month.33 Expressed in definite numbers, for the naval bombardment alone the total of ammunition actually expended came to a staggering 14,650 tons. This amount was divided into 2,400 rounds of 16-inch, weighing 2,280 tons; 5,700 rounds of 14-inch, 3,640 tons; 1,440 rounds of 12-inch, 520 tons; 11,700 rounds of 8-inch high capacity, 2,020 tons; 8,400 rounds of 6-inch high capacity, 440 tons; 152,000 rounds of 5-inch high capacity, 4,160 tons; 17,700 rounds of 5-inch star, 300 tons; 12,000 rounds of 5-inch, 270 tons; 10,000 rounds of 4-inch, 145 tons; and 70,000 rounds of 4.2 mortar, 875 tons.34
In addition to ammunition, an amazing quantity of fuel and other items were to be required for the capture of the five-mile long island. These included: 4,100,000 barrels of black oil, 595,000 barrels of diesel oil, 33,775,000 gallons of aviation gasoline, and 6,703,000 gallons of motor gas; plus about 28,000 tons of various types of ammunition; 38 tons of clothing; more than 10,000 tons of fleet freight; more than 7,000 tons of ship supplies of rope, canvas,
fenders, cleaning gear, and hardware; approximately, 1,000 tons of candy; toilet articles, stationary, and ship's service canteen items; and about 14,500 tons of fresh, frozen, and dry provisions.35
General Holland Smith himself was to remark later "that the amount of effort that had gone into the capture of the barren island was staggering. The Navy had put more ammunition on Iwo Jima than anywhere else in the Pacific. Marine artillery expended 450,000 shells and we used huge quantities of mortar shells, grenades, and rockets."36
Closely connected with the expenditure of ammunition by shore-based artillery and naval gunfire was the Air Support Control Unit, in charge of the combat air and antisubmarine patrol. The unit was composed of Marine and Navy officers and Marine enlisted technicians and operators. Here the cramped space available on Iwo Jima was an advantage. In this case, the unit was located only 75 feet from the Landing Force Command Post. As a result of this proximity, troop requests for air support could be handled much more expeditiously than before.
For the coordination of artillery fire and air strikes, a brief of each air strike was broadcast over the Corps Artillery Fire Direction Control Net. Each air strike was given a number and information obtained on number and type of aircraft, direction of approach and retirement, minimum altitude, and other pertinent data. Each artillery battalion thus was able to control its fire so that it did not interfere with strikes. A complete cessation of artillery fire became necessary only once or twice when aircraft delivered a low-level napalm attack.37
Progress in developing the island did not stop with the construction of new facilities. In some instances, the very shape of the island had to be changed to meet the requirements of the new occupants. Even Iwo's most outstanding landmark, Mount Suribachi, was to be affected by these changes. The Army garrison troops planned to get various trucks housing radar, weather, and navigational equipment for the coming assault against the Japanese home islands on top of the mountain. Before such plans could be realized, it became necessary to construct a road to the top, a project that had never been realized by the Japanese. On D plus 15, construction of a two-lane road, 35 feet wide, got under way, winding its way up and around the mountain for nearly a mile. Early the following morning, the first bulldozer drove into the crater at the top of Suribachi. The Japanese, a number of whom were still living inside the mountain after surviving the battle for Suribachi, were powerless to interfere with the road construction. They stole out of their caves only at night in search of food and water and were methodically eliminated when spotted.
In the midst of the multitude of supporting headquarters and units operating on the island, there was a special complement of men, neither wholly military or civilian, whose job it was
to photograph the action on the island or write about it. They were representatives of American and Allied news services, radio networks, and local newspapers. The news reporters were given the widest possible latitude in covering the operation and thus could be found among the invasion force, in the landing boats, and occasionally in the foxholes.
In addition to the accredited civilian correspondents, each of the military services had its own news writers and photographers, including a special Navy film crew which recorded the entire operation on color film. Radio teletype equipment was set up on the beaches for the benefit of the press, and a Navy floatplane was made available to carry copy, photographs, and newsreels directly to Guam, where this material was processed and flown back to the United States. Another precedent was established when, on D plus 7, Admiral Turner and General Holland M. Smith were interviewed on Iwo Jima in a live broadcast while the battle was still raging on the island.
The events on the battlefield received wide coverage and distribution in American newspapers and magazines. None of the ferocity of the fighting was withheld from the American public. As casualties mounted and the full impact of the cost in lives expended to secure the island began to hit home, plaintive voices arose to question the need for such a bloodletting. Then as now, sincere and serious-minded Americans, appalled witnesses to the savage fighting they could not stem, groped for a way out, at least a more inexpensive way to subdue the enemy. Among the expedients suggested was the employment of toxic gas.
Unknown to the public at large, the employment of chemical warfare agents in the Pacific Theater had already undergone active consideration while the Iwo operation was still in the planning stage. Through collaboration with the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, a special report had been compiled on the subject of gas warfare on Iwo Jima.39 Its primary feature was the recommendation that Japanese transmitters on the island be jammed. Once the enemy's communications had been rendered inoperable and he was isolated, the entire island was to be inundated with gas. In late June 1944, the director of Research and Development, OSS, had made a special trip to Hawaii to discuss the project with Admiral Nimitz.
The Case for and Against Chemical Warfare38
The difficulties of employing gas warfare were twofold, both technical and moral. During the early part of World War II, the United States had thought
of the use of toxic gases only as a retaliatory measure. In this connection, the 100-pound mustard-filled bomb was considered by chemical warfare officers as the most suitable munition for retaliation. The peak stock of this item attained in the Pacific Theater in July 1944 was 15,244 bombs with 541.2 tons of toxic filling. In the words of a chemical warfare service officer:
This supply was token only. If, for example, this entire supply had been used on Iwo Jima, which had an area of seven and one-half square miles, it would only have contaminated a little more than half, or four and one half square miles. Considering the vapor effect of mustard and the fact that the entire island would not have been regarded as a target, the stock would have been sufficient for one contamination. In the opinion of most chemical officers one contamination would have been enough to end all enemy resistance on the island. The question of resupply for other objectives would then arise.40
The second difficulty in employing chemical warfare against the Japanese could be found in the attitude of most of the nation's civilian and military leaders. In fact, military reluctance to use this weapon had its origin in the experiences of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. In connection with the possible employment of toxic gas on Iwo Jima, General Holland Smith made this comment:
I am not prepared to argue this question. Certainly, gas shells smothering the island, or gas introduced into caves and tunnels would have simplified our task, but naturally the use of this prohibited weapon was not within the power of a field commander. The decision was on a higher level. It was in the hands of the Allied Powers, who alone could authorize its use in a war which would have assumed even more frightful proportions had gas been allowed.41
In the end, it was the Chief Executive of the United States who had a final voice in approving or disapproving the entire plan. Regardless of their divergent political views, both Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt in the years between the two world wars had been in favor of eliminating gas as a military weapon. In 1937, when vetoing a bill that would have changed the designation of the Army Chemical Warfare Service to that of Chemical Corps, the President had expressed his views on this subject in no uncertain terms:
It has been and is the policy of this Government to do everything in its power to outlaw the use of chemicals in warfare. Such use is inhuman and contrary to what modern civilization should stand for.42
One of the official Army histories dealing with chemical warfare has pointed out in this connection that "gas warfare had no advocates in high places."43 While this may have been true during the early years of World War II, there is some evidence that, as of early 1945, the atmosphere in Washington has begun to shift in favor of chemical warfare.44 Another reason for increased
American readiness to accept initiation of chemical warfare towards the final phase of the war may be found in the extremely heavy American casualties sustained in the Western Pacific. None other than General of the Army George C. Marshall was to testify after the war had ended that "following the terrible losses at Iwo Jima, he was prepared to use gas at Okinawa."45
It is interesting to note that, at the same time that American views towards the employment of gas offensively became more aggressive, the Japanese policy shifted in the opposite direction. With the loss of the Marianas in the spring and summer of 1944, the home islands had suddenly become extremely vulnerable to American chemical attack. In the firm belief that the United States would not initiate gas warfare, and since Japanese ability to retaliate was in any case too low, Japan, in mid-1944:
. . . decided to discontinue production of toxic agents and to recall all stocks of gas munitions from the hands of troops in the field. Thus, in mid-1944, the Japanese started a policy of disarmament. Readiness spiraled downward until hostilities ended.46
Thus we are faced with the strange spectacle of a hostile nation, pledged to fight to the death, and confronted by an immense military machine, dismantling its limited chemical warfare apparatus as operations reached their climax. Stranger still, Japanese reasoning apparently was based on the declared policy of the United States not to initiate gas warfare. The Japanese failed to consider that, given different time and circumstances, such a policy might be subject to change.
With present knowledge, not available to Allied planners in 1944, it becomes clear that by the time the Iwo Jima operation got underway, Japan was no longer in a position to retaliate with chemical means in response to Allied action, with one minor exception.47 All that prevented the employment of gas on Iwo Jima was the President's aversion to gas warfare. Even though the United States had not signed any international instrument outlawing such warfare, national policy clearly limited the conditions under which toxic gas might have been introduced. In consequence of this policy, heavy casualties to the contrary, Marines would continue to assault Iwo Jima with rifle, hand grenade, and flamethrowers until all resistance had been overcome. In a matter of roughly three weeks from D-Day, Iwo Jima had been transformed from a strongpoint in the Japanese defense system to an important American air base of strategic and tactical
importance to the overall air offensive against Japan. The capture and development of the island denied its use to the enemy and at the same time it served as an emergency haven for aircraft returning from raids against Japan. In American hands, Iwo Jima represented an advance base for search and reconnaissance. It further provided a base within fighter range of Japan. Furthermore, the island could be utilized as a staging point for bombers, permitting greater bomb loads in lieu of gasoline, though the island was not much used for this purpose.48 Iwo Jima could also become a refueling stop for short-range aircraft en route to bases closer to Japan yet to be seized before the general assault against the Japanese homeland got underway later in the year.
This, then, was the significance of the fiercely contested island. This is why General Kuribayashi had decided to adopt those tactics that would prove most costly to the invasion force and that would cause the most delay in the conversion of the stronghold to American use. After three weeks of bitter fighting, his intention has been partially realized as far as taking a toll in American lives was concerned. But, just behind the front lines, bulldozers were shifting earth, changing the very landscape of the island; communications were humming, and heedless of tenacious Japanese holed up in the northern part of the island, the task of reconstruction was proceeding at an ever-increasing pace.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (VI-7) * Next Chapter (VI-9)
1. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this chapter is derived from U. S. Pacific Fleet, Base Development Plan, Iwo Jima, TF 51 AR; TF 52 AR; TF 56 AR; TF 56 TQM Rpt; TF 56 Air Rpt; TF 56 Med Rpt, dtd 28Mar45; VAC SAR; VAC C-1 PerRpts; VAC C-3 Rpt; VAC C-4 Jnl; VAC Logistics Rpt; VAC NGF and AirRpts; 3d MarDiv G-1 PerRpts; 3d MarDiv G-4 Per Rpts, 27Feb-1Apr45; 3d MarDiv G-4 Jrl, 23Feb-8Apr45, hereafter 3d MarDiv G-4 Jnl; 4th MarDiv D-4 Rpts; 5th MarDiv Casualty Rpts; 5th MarDiv D-1 Jnl; 5th MarDiv SerTrps UJnl, 19Feb-8Mar45, hereafter 5th MarDiv SerTrps UJnl; 5th SP Rgt AR; ComPhibGru 2 AR; Iwo Comments; Bartley, Iwo Monograph; Newcomb, Iwo Jima; Sherrod, Marine Corps Aviation in World War II; Craven and Cate, The Pacific; Gallant, The Friendly Dead; Carter,Beans, Bullets, and Black Oil; Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass; Brooks E. Kleber and Dale Birdsell, The Chemical Warfare Service: The Technical Services--U. S. Army in World War II--Chemicals in Combat (Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1966), hereafter Kleber and Birdsell, Chemicals in Combat; Leo P. Brophy and George J. B. Fisher, The Chemical Warfare Service: The Technical Services--U. S. Army in World War II--Organizing for War (Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1959), hereafter Brophy and Fisher, Organizing for War; David E. Lilienthal, The Journals of David E. Lilienthal, The Atomic Years, 1945-1950, v. II (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), hereafter Lilienthal, The Atomic Energy Years; Department of the Navy, Building the Navy's Bases in World War II, v. II (Washington: U. S. Government Printing office, 1947); William Bradford Huie, From Omaha to Okinawa (New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1945).
2. Additional material in this section is derived from: 31st NCB AR: 1st JASCO OpRpt, Iwo Jima, 27Nov44-19Mar45, hereafter 1st JASCO OpRpt; 2d Sep Eng Bn URpts, 25Feb-26Mar45, hereafter 2d Sep EngBn URpts; 3d JASCO AR, Iwo Jima, 7Nov44-16Mar45, hereafter 3d JASCO AR; 2d Bomb Disposal Co. UJnl, Iwo Jima, 19Feb-22Mar45, hereafter 2d Bomb Disposal Co UJnl.
3. Newcomb, Iwo Jima, pp. 193-194.
4. TF 51 AR, Pt V, Sec E, p. 15.
5. Rogers ltr.
6. Gen Vernon E. Megee interview with HistDiv, HQMC, dtd 17May67 (Oral History Collection, HistDiv, HQMC), p. 32. According to USAF historical sources, "On 10 January 1945 General Moore recommended that Colonel Megee (as Landing Force Commander, Air Support Control Unit) would continue to act as the Landing Force Aircraft Commander during the assault phase at Iwo until the arrival of the designated Landing Force Aircraft Commander, namely Moore. He stated that Colonel Magee concurred in the plan since it would provide unity and continuity of command. Moore also pointed out that he would be needed on Guam to get aircraft prepared to go forward as scheduled, and it would be more important for him to do this than to be on Iwo during the assault phase. . . . On 6 March, General Moore led the air echelon of the 15th Fighter Group to Iwo Jima, and upon arrival there promptly assumed the Air Commander duty. Air Force Comment.
7. TF 56 AR, Encl F, p. 4.
8. ComPhibGru 2 AR, pp. 9-10.
9. Craven and Cate, The Pacific, p. 595.
10. Ibid., p. 596.
11. Ibid., p. 521.
12. Air Force Comment.
13. Additional material in this section is derived from: 3d EngBn AR; 3d Pioneer Bn URpt, 25Feb-26Mar45, hereafter 3d Pioneer Bn URpt; 4th MedBn OpRpt, Iwo Jima, 19Feb-Mar45, hereafter 4th MedBn OpRpt; 4th SerBn OpRpt, Iwo Jima, 27Dec44-19Mar45, hereafter 4th SerBn OpRpt; 5th Eng Bn UJnl, Iwo Jima, 19Feb-24Mar45, hereafter 5th EngBn UJnl; 5th MedBn UJnl, Iwo Jima, 27Feb-18Mar45, hereafter 5th MedBn UJnl; 5th Pioneer Bn UJnl, Iwo Jima, 7-23Jul45, hereafter 5th Pioneer Bn UJnl.
14. RAdm Carl E. Anderson ltr to CMC, dtd 26Nov52, in Iwo Comments.
15. CominCh 1-9.
16. TF 56 TQM RPt, p. 6.
17. HQ FMFPac MedRpt, Iwo Jima, dtd 28-Mar45, p. 19, hereafter FMFPac MedRpt.
18. VAC Logistics Rpt. Encl A, pp. 16-23.
19. Bartley, Iwo Monograph, p. 113.
20. TF 56 MedRpt, p. 3.
21. Gallant, The Friendly Dead, p. 164.
22. Newcomb, Iwo Jima, pp. 254-255.
23. For a detailed account of the procedure laid down for obtaining various types of artillery and air support, and the sequence in which such type of support was to be requested by the infantry, see Letcher ltr.
24. Carter, Beans, Bullets, and Black Oil, p. 290.
25. Ibid., pp. 290-291.
26. CTG 56.1 Dispatch to CTF 56, 1732, 28-Feb45.
27. According to the VAC chief of staff: "I was present when General Smith discussed this with General Schmidt, and to the best of my recollection General Smith stated categorically headquarters of the three divisions that Admiral Turner would not release the 3d Marines unless General Schmidt stated that he could not capture the island without them. This, of course, General Schmidt could not do." Rogers ltr.
28. LtGen Edward A. Craig ltr to Head, HistBr, G-3 Division, HQMC, n.d., in Iwo Comments, hereafter Craig ltr.
29. Rogers ltr.
30. Isely and Crowl, U. S. Marines and Amphibious War, p. 528.
31. FMFPac MedRpt, p. 21.
32. Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass, p. 267.
33. CG FMFPac, Arty Anx to Encl G, Iwo AR; New York Times Editorial, 25Feb45, p. 8E, columns 2-3, as cited in Isely and Crowl, U.S. Marines and Amphibious War, p. 517.
34. Carter, Beans, Bullets, and Black Oil, p. 289.
35. Ibid., p. 291.
36. Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass, p. 275.
37. ComPhibGru 2 AR, Pt 5, pp. 1-2.
38. Additional material in this section is derived from: Frederic J. Brown III, Chemical Warfare, A Study in Restraint (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), hereafter Brown, Chemical Warfare.
39. A chapter dealing with this matter, known as the Lethbridge Report, appears in the recollections of Stanley P. Lovell, former Director of Research and Development, OSS, in his memoirs entitled: Of Spies and Strategems (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963), pp. 70-78.
40. Kleber and Birdsell, Chemicals in Combat, pp. 269-270.
41. Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass, p. 276.
42. Veto msg of Bill S.1284, as cited in Brophy and Fisher, Organizing for War, pp. 21-22.
43. Kleber and Birdsell, Chemicals in Combat, p. 653.
44. In Brown, Chemical Warfare, the author attributes this change to three factors: Germany's imminent collapse, removing the last Axis possibility of retaliating with gas against an Allied population; President Roosevelt's death; and the over-riding importance of bringing the war against Japan to a speedy conclusion.
45. Quoted in Lilienthal, The Atomic Energy Years, p. 199.
46. Brown, Chemical Warfare, p. 260.
47. "The Japanese troops on Iwo Jima had been supplied with glass containers -- I suppose they could be called gas grenades -- which was liquid hydrogen cyanide. These containers of clear glass were a little larger than a baseball. When the container was broke the liquid released cyanide gas. These could have been effective if they had been used inside pillboxes or caves or other closed spaces." Letcher ltr.
48. Craven and Cate, The Pacific, p. 597.