The 5th Marine Division Drive On the Left1
As the battle for Iwo Jima neared its climax, the full force of three Marine divisions was employed to reduce the main enemy defenses near the Central Airfield. General Erskine's drive up the center of the island to the northern shore has already been narrated. In addition to the men of the 3d Marine Division who fought and died at such landmarks as Hills OBOE and PETER, Motoyama Village, and Hill 362C, Marines of the adjacent 4th and 5th Divisions were making similar sacrifices to the east and west respectively. In the sectors of the latter two divisions the landmarks may have varied in some respects. They were to bear names like Hill 362A, 362B, Nishi Ridge, and Bloody Gorge. Men of the 4th Division would suffer at places appropriately named the Meat Grinder, the Amphitheater, and Turkey Knob. For all of them the enemy remained the same: fanatical, utterly devoted to his mission, bent on the destruction of the invaders who had dared violate sacred Japanese soil.
Advance up the West Coast2
An attack by the 5th Marine Division on 24 February had resulted in sizable gains by the 26th Marines, which by the end of the day advanced 400 yards north of the 3d Division elements
on its right. The gains were made at a heavy cost; 21 officers and 332 enlisted men became casualties on D plus 5.3 In order to give the 9th Marines a chance of straightening the lines, the 26th Marines was ordered to remain in place on 25 February.
Map V: 5th Mar Div Zone of Action · Progress Lines · 2-10 Mar 45
On the morning of D plus 6, the 5th Marine Division held a line extending for 1,200 yards from west to east. From the left to right, 2/27 held the cliffs overlooking the western beaches; the center of the line, protruding into enemy territory, was held by 2/26; to the right of this battalion, the line slanted southward, held by 3/26 with one attached company of 1/26. (See Map V, Map Section). It had become evident by this time that the high ground in the zone of action of the adjacent 3d Marine Division exerted a paramount influence on the further advance of the 5th Division. No major progress could be expected until General Erskine's division had driven the enemy from this high ground in the center of the island.
While the 26th Marines consolidated its positions on 25 February, the adjacent 9th Marines of the 3d Division attacked northward along its joint boundary with the 5th Marine Division. On this day, the 9th Marines failed to make any noteworthy gains, and the situation along Colonel Graham's right flank remained substantially unchanged. Throughout the day, heavy enemy fire from the right front raked the positions occupied by the 26th Marines, greatly interfering with supply and evacuation. Nevertheless, the men of the 5th Division were to get one break during the day. Around 1500, one of the spotter planes reported enemy artillery moving north along a road following the contour of the island on northern Iwo. Three batteries of the 13th Marines immediately adjusted on the target and fired nearly 600 rounds. At the end of this fire mission, the observer reported that three artillery pieces had been destroyed, several prime movers were burning, and an ammunition dump was ablaze.4 This was the only time during the Iwo Jima campaign that the enemy ever offered such a choice target. Hereafter, Japanese artillery deployed to new firing positions only at night.
On D plus 7 General Rockey's division resumed the attack. Following a 45-minute artillery and naval gunfire preparation, the 26th Marines jumped off in the main effort. Almost immediately, the attack ran into heavy resistance. The enemy poured fire from small arms, machine guns, and mortars into the ranks of the advancing Marines. At the same time, heavy artillery and mortar fire from the northern part of the island hit the assault troops. As the Marines closed with the enemy, hand grenade duels ensued.
During the advance, the nature of the terrain underwent a subtle change. Thus far, General Rockey's division had been operating in soft, sandy, and open terrain. As the 26th Marines moved northward, the level ground gave way to heavily fortified cliffs. Essentially, the 5th Marine Division now entered a difficult complex of ridges. In each case, the attack had to be carried up one
slope, across the top, and then down into another ravine beyond. Above the ridges, there loomed a major enemy bastion, Hill 362A, just south of Nishi Village. This terrain feature impressed the advancing Marines because its sinister presence overshadowed all other obstacles in the area. The hill was rugged and rocky, devoid of all vegetation on its southern slopes, To the north, as yet unseen by the Americans advancing from the south, there was a sheer drop of about 80 feet. The Japanese had exploited this formidable obstacle to the utmost. The entire hill bristled with caves of varying sizes, many of them serving as mortar and machine gun emplacements. The elevation enabled the enemy to observe western Iwo all the way south to Mount Suribachi, and thus exposed to his view all American activity in the front lines, as well as on the western beaches.
Despite fierce enemy resistance, the 5th Marine Division attack on 26 February moved steadily towards Hill 362A, still about 800 yards away, whose very prominence made it a natural objective. The three battalions in the main effort were the 2d and 3d Battalions, 26th Marines, commanded respectively by Major Amedeo Rea and Major Richard Fagan, and 2/27 under Major John W. Antonelli. Because of heavy automatic weapons fire from an enemy strongpoint consisting of pillboxes and caves, the advance of 2/26 was so slowed that in two hours gains of only 50 yards were registered. Tanks of Company B, 5th Tank Battalion, took a hand in the fighting. At 1000, Company F of 2/26, thus far held in reserve, was committed. With the support of armor, the infantry launched a spirited attack against the stubborn enemy position. The efforts of this company were quickly crowned with success. For the first time since 2/26 had come ashore, the battalion came face to face with the usually elusive and unseen enemy. In the resulting pitched battle, the Japanese came out second best. Those of the enemy who sought to flee were killed out in the open. Catching the ordinarily well entrenched enemy for once in such a vulnerable position greatly boosted the morale of the Marines engaged in this action, "for no man likes to fight something he cannot see, and the sight of running Japs was, if nothing else, reassuring."5
Advancing on the right and supported by tanks of Company A, 5th Tank Battalion, 3/26 gained about 100 yards, smashing fortifications as it went along and destroying numerous guns in the ravines that led down from the plateau perpendicular to the route of advance. Gains made by the adjacent 9th Marines helped 3/26 in its forward movement. To the left of the 26th Marines, 2/27 initially made rapid progress, gaining 400 yards during the first two hours. For the remainder of the day, the battalion stayed in place in order to permit 2/26 to come abreast. The terrain in the zone of advance of 2/27 precluded the employment of tanks. Instead, 20 LVT (A)s of the 2d Armored Amphibian Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Reed M. Fawell, Jr., supported the battalion attack from the sea. The 75mm fire from the armored
SOLIDLY EMPLACED tank of the Japanese 26th Tank Regiment after capture. (USAF 70317 AC)
MARINE COMBAT PATROL moves through jagged terrain in northern Iwo Jima. (USMC 142316)
amphibians knocked out several enemy caves, but in the choppy seas their fire began to endanger friendly troops and, as a result, they were ordered to cease fire.6
When action halted on the evening of 26 February, the lines of the 5th Marine Division still formed an arc whose apogee extended some 400 yards into enemy territory. Gains for the day amounted to roughly 300 yards, Most important of all, the day's advance had netted the 26th Marines two Japanese wells, the last ones believed to be under enemy control. Henceforth, the Japanese would have to rely on such water as they had been able to store or on rainfall.
Enemy reaction to the loss of this vital resource was not long delayed, Following a rainy afternoon, the skies cleared. In bright moonlight, a company-size force of Japanese assembled and started to move down the west coast, presumably with the intention of recapturing the two vital wells. Men of the 26th Marines spotted a sizable enemy force heading for one of the wells near the cliffs south of Hill 362A. The Japanese represented a splendid target in the moonlight. Both artillery and naval gunfire racked the enemy force and dispersed it before it reached any of the wells.
In another incident during this restless night, at the observation post of Company D, the company commander, Captain Thomas M. Fields, and a member of his staff observed three Japanese walking boldly within 25 feet of them with picric acid satchel charges. The two officers routed the enemy with hand grenades, killing one of the intruders.7 This was only one example of the enemy's boldness in approaching or penetrating the American lines. Marines up front could never be sure of who or what was approaching them in the darkness. One of the early incidents which occurred on D plus 2, involved the compromise of the password "Chevrolet" in the area then occupied by Company F, 2/26. A sentry challenged a moving figure, who gave the correct password. Not satisfied with the pronunciation of "Chevrolet," the sentry repeated his challenge. Once again the password was mispronounced. The sentry fired and killed the intruder, who the next morning was identified as Japanese.8
Confrontations of this type tended to increase the vigilance of Marines on Iwo Jima. At times, such alertness was carried to the extreme and, a few nights later, resulted in a humorous incident involving the same company. During the night of 25-26 February, Company F, 2/26, seized a Navajo Indian, who was mistakenly identified as Japanese.9 His poor English, made worse by a bad case of fright, made his position precarious
for a while. Fortunately, he escaped physical harm; his ordeal ended when he was finally identified by another Navajo Marine.
At 0630 on 27 February, the 27th Marines, with 1/26 attached, relieved the 26th Marines. Ninety minutes later, following a half-hour preparation by the 13th Marines, reinforced by corps artillery, Colonel Wornham's men jumped off with 2/27 on the left, 1/27 in the center, and 3/27 on the right. The 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, remained in regimental reserve. Shortly before the jumpoff, truck-mounted launchers of the 3d Rocket Detachment showered the area directly in front of the lines with a heavy barrage of 4.5-inch rockets, then pulled back before the enemy could retaliate. At the same time, naval gunfire was brought to bear against Hill 362A, followed by carrier aircraft which bombed and rocketed the hill.
Moving forward in the center, 1/27 gained 200 yards before running straight into a heavily defended cluster of pillboxes. A half-track was able to knock out one of these strong points with its 75mm gun before its crew was hit by well-aimed small arms fire. A decision to move up 37mm guns for support could not be implemented because no suitable positions could be found. Consequently, the task of reducing the formidable obstacle once again fell to small flamethrower-demolition teams who would reduce one pillbox after another in the slow, dangerous, but time-proven method.
During the afternoon, when the company advancing on the left of the 1st Battalion encountered a heavily fortified area, the call went out for tanks. The arrival of a flamethrower tank, in particular, was eagerly awaited. When it finally reached the scene of action, accompanied by other armor, it received a mortar hit and was disabled before it had a chance to take part in the engagement. Nevertheless, the remaining Shermans lent effective support. They fired with everything they had and then moved forward in concert with the infantry. In the course of this advance, several more enemy pillboxes, as well as a dug-in tank, were put out of action. Once the momentum of the attack had been regained, the Marines moved forward for an additional 200 yards until they halted shortly after 1900.
Advancing on the left of the 27th Marines, the 2d Battalion faced not only a determined enemy, but extremely difficult terrain. The cliff on the high ground adjacent to the west coast beaches was honeycombed with caves and emplacements, most of them sheltering mortars and machine guns. In such terrain the employment of tanks was out of the question; furthermore, the few existing routes of approach were heavily mined. Once again, the full burden of the attack fell on small infantry and demolition teams, each one advancing more or less independently, taking its losses as it eliminated one enemy strongpoint after another. Of necessity, such a movement is slow and extremely exhausting, yet steady gains were made and by late afternoon, 2/27 had advanced 500 yards.
On the right of the division line, 3/27 moved against a ridge which guarded the approach to Hill 362A,
Company G launched a frontal assault against this ridge and was promptly thrown back. A group of 30 men attempting to outflank this position was initially repulsed; a second try appeared more promising. As the Marines advanced LIP the slope they were hit by a hail of hand grenades thrown by the enemy from the reverse slope. Ten Marines were killed on the spot, including Gunnery Sergeant William G. Walsh, who dived on a hand grenade which landed in a hole where he and several of the men had taken cover. As other elements of the company reached the scene, the enemy was driven from the reverse slope, and the ridge remained in friendly hands.
As D plus 8 came to a close, the 5th Marine Division had gained roughly 500 yards through the heart of the enemy main line of resistance in some of the heaviest fighting in which any Marine unit on Iwo Jima was to take part. Losses throughout the day had been heavy, some units being harder hit than others. In one instance, Company A, 1/27, occupied a ridge only to discover that it was exposed to heavy enemy rifle and machine gun fire. The company suffered additional casualties from enemy hand grenades, thrown from bypassed positions in the flanks and rear. For all practical purposes, the Marines of Company A on top of the ridge were cut off. The 1st Platoon, in particular, was hard hit. By the time the company was relieved by Company B, 8 men had been killed and 50 wounded.10 While the Company A losses were unusually heavy, they serve as an indication of the 5th Marine Division's losses since D-Day. By noon of D plus 8, the division had sustained 32 officers and 530 men killed, 134 officers and 2,360 men wounded, and 2 officers and 160 men missing in action, a total of 168 officers and 3,058 men.11
The 5th Marine Division had now reached the O-2 Line across its entire zone of advance, though the lines on the evening of D plus 8 were not perfectly straight. Not all of the action occurred in the front lines. Continuous vigilance was required to clear the enemy out of the previously captured ground. Japanese kept appearing seemingly out of nowhere. Only later was it determined that they could move at will through a carefully constructed system of tunnels. As a result, before a day's attack could get under way, some mopping up remained to be done in the rear area. Despite the gains made by the 27th Marines on 27 February, an even more difficult operation awaited 5th Marine Division units on the following day.
On the morning of D plus 9, the last day of February, the 5th Marine Division
The Assault on the Hill 362A12
was squarely up against Hill 362A, the highest elevation on western Iwo. The hill loomed forbiddingly above the Marines huddled at its approaches. Around the base of this hill mass, rocky outcrops dominated every approach. The Japanese had fortified each one of these rocky spurs,which afforded excellent fields of fire. For the attack on 28 February, the 27th Marines had been ordered to seize an intermediate objective between the O-2 and O-3 Lines.
Initially, the mission of taking Hill 362A had been entrusted to 3/27, while 1/27 was to simultaneously attack an irregular line of ridges extending from the objective down to the western beaches. During the night, 1/26 had relieved 2/27 and was committed along the left flank of the regiment along the beaches. Following a 45-minute preparation by artillery, naval gunfire, and rockets, and supported by carrier-based aircraft, the 27th Marines jumped off at 0815 for what was to develop into one of the bloodiest encounters on the island.
From the outset, the enemy offered stubborn resistance all along the regimental front. Advancing in the center and on the right of the regimental line, 1/27 and 3/27 encountered some of the heaviest small arms fire yet directed against them. The 1st Battalion called for and received tank support as it had on the previous day, but the terrain in the zone of advance of 3/27 precluded the employment of armor, and the battalion had to rely strictly on its own fire power. Advancing gingerly across 200 yards of difficult terrain, the two assault battalions reached the foot of the hill around noon.
At this point, the attack began to bog down. In accordance with General Kuribayashi's orders, the Japanese remained in their positions and fought to the bitter end. Those who were bypassed continued to fire into the rear of the advancing Marines. At such close range, the enemy snipers were extremely effective and inflicted heavy casualties on the assault force. In the course of the afternoon, several patrols from 3/27 probed the defenses on the hill itself, seeking for a way to seize it. A patrol from Company I actually made it up the southwest slopes to the crest of the hill around 1630. However, since cohesion between 1/27 and 3/27 had been lost, the patrol had to be recalled in late afternoon and Company I pulled back about 100 yards, where it tied in with elements of the adjacent 21st Marines on the left of the 3d Marine Division.
Far from being content with halting the Marine advance, 50-100 enemy troops sallied forth from positions on Hill 362A during the late afternoon and counterattacked the 3/27 lines. The brunt of this blow fell upon Company H, which engaged in desperate hand-to-hand fighting with frenzied Japanese before the latter were driven off.
By nightfall, men of the 27th Marines were still stalled at the foot of Hill 362A, which towered above them, seemingly as impregnable as ever. After a day of extremely bitter action, which had cost numerous casualties, the overall regimental gain had been about 300 yards. To the left, 1/26 had sent out advance detachments along the beaches, but the northward movement of any large body of troops was seriously
impaired by the enemy's possession of the adjacent high ground. The night from 28 February to 1 March turned out to be a very quiet one for the exhausted 5th Division Marines in the front lines. Four listening posts had been established by 2/26 along the beaches to frustrate any enemy intentions of landing reinforcements on the island. Each listening post had been augmented with one dog and its handler from the 6th War Dog Platoon. Eventually, things became so quiet that even the dogs found it difficult to remain awake.13
Elsewhere on Iwo Jima, it was a different matter. In the southern part of the island, in the vicinity of Mount Suribachi where they had been positioned ever since that elevation was captured, the 28th Marines was preparing to move north to join the 15th Division drive. At midnight, the enemy began shelling the positions of the corps artillery and those of the 13th Marines. This bombardment continued at some length. Shortly after 0200, the 5th Marine Division ammunition dump blew up with a tremendous roar, blazing fiercely for the remainder of the night. At least 20 percent of the division small arms ammunition supply was lost in the conflagration, along with large quantities of heavier ammunition. One of the exploding shells landed in the corps artillery fire direction center but caused no casualties, though it did wreak havoc with the telephone wire.14
In the course of the operation, VAC Headquarters itself came under fire a number of times from mortars and artillery. This shelling resulted in several casualties. On at least two occasions, all work in the operations tents of the various staff sections came to a stop and officers and men piled together on the ground as shells landed nearby.15
In the midst of the commotion caused by the exploding ammunition dump, the island's air alert system went off. The nerves of personnel in the southern part of the island were further strained when exploding white phosphorus shells were mistaken for gas shells and someone gave the gas alarm at 0300. Within ten minutes, the gas alarm was cancelled; not so the air alert, which continued until 0430.16
As it turned out, there was some substance to the air alert. No enemy planes appeared over Iwo Jima during the night, but shortly before 0300 an enemy aircraft, skimming in low over the water, dropped a torpedo near the destroyer Terry a few miles north of Kitano Point. The destroyer took evasive action and barely avoided getting hit by the torpedo. However, a few hours later, while passing the northernmost point of Iwo Jima, the ship came under fire from enemy shore batteries, which scored hits on the main deck and forward engine room. Eleven destroyer crewmen were killed and 19 wounded before the Terry, assisted by the Nevada and Pensacola, made good her escape. In addition to the loss in lives, the ship had suffered substantial damage.17 Another vessel, the destroyer Colhoun, anchored
off the northeastern coast of Iwo to repair damage sustained in a collision, took several hits from enemy shore batteries which wrecked a torpedo tube, exploded the air flask of a torpedo, and caused other extensive damage. One man was killed and 16 were wounded in the course of this action.18
At 0630 on 1 March, the 28th Marines, with the 5th Tank Battalion and 3/27 attached, moved forward through the 27th Marines in order to continue the attack on Hill 362A. Between 0745 and 0830, the objective and surrounding area received a heavy shelling from all four battalions of the 13th Marines and the corps' 155mm howitzers. Off-shore, a battleship and two cruisers joined in the bombardment. The volume of fire was such that it was deemed best, in the interests of coordination, to exclude aircraft from the preparatory tires. They would have ample opportunity to support the attack later in the day.
Shortly before 0900 the 28th Marines jumped off with the lst, 2d, and 3d Battalions from right to left. The attack moved ahead slowly under heavy enemy mortar and small arms fire. To Colonel Liversedge's men, the dogged defense of Hill 362A was reminiscent of the action at the base of Mount Suribachi. The scheme of maneuver called for 1/28 and 2/28 to attack around the right and left of Hill 362A respectively and link up on the north side of the hill. Meanwhile, 3/28 was to advance up the west coast to the left of 2/28.
By 1030, both the 1st and 2d Battalions had reached the top of the ridge and the ridgeline running east and west of Hill 362A. As they attempted to advance beyond the crest, they discovered that a steep drop of nearly 100 feet into a rocky draw confronted them. To make matters worse, heavy fire from small arms, automatic weapons, and mortars hit the advancing Marines from the adjacent ridge to the north, subsequently to become known as Nishi Ridge. The draw itself ran parallel to the ridge line and was bisected by an antitank ditch that ran perpendicular to the hill. Covering the ditch were cleverly constructed positions in the face of the steep cliff, inaccessible from the top. Beyond the antitank ditch and the draw, the ground leveled off for about 200 yards before again rising sharply to form Nishi Ridge.
In order to keep the attack moving, Lieutenant Colonel Jack B. Butterfield, commanding 1/28, sent his reserve, Company A, around the right of Hill 362A. This maneuver proved unsuccessful and the company came under such withering fire, accompanied by a shower of grenades, that it was stopped short in its tracks. During this assault the company commander was killed. A similar attempt by Company B to get into the draw proved equally unsuccessful, and the company commander was wounded. In this jumble of rock, both companies suffered heavy casualties. Among these was Corporal Tony Stein of Company A, who had already made a name for himself on D Day. He set out with 20 men to clear the ridge of snipers. Only seven men returned from
this mission. Among the men of Company B killed near the base of Hill 362A this day were three w-ho had raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi; one of them had taken part in the first and the two others had participated in the second flag raising.
Throughout the day, 10 regular tanks and 2 flame tanks of Company C, 5th Tank Battalion, gave all possible support to 2/28 to the extent that the terrain permitted, with fire on the cliffs and the high ground to the front. Shortly after noon, two platoons of tanks spearheaded an attack along the left flank of the battalion; subsequently, one platoon was withdrawn and shifted to the right of the zone of action of 2/28, just north and west of Hill 362 A.. Even with the support of tanks, 2/28 proved unable to advance. The battle raged hot and heavy at close quarters; in one instance, one of the tanks bogged down, surrounded by 30-40 Japanese, some of them occupying a cave only 10 feet from the tank. Fighting as infantry, the tank crew was able to make a harrowing escape after disabling the gun and radio.
For the remainder of the afternoon of D plus 10, the 1st and 2d Battalions, 28th Marines, remained stalled along the crest of Hill 362A and at the base of the hill, where the enemy still held out in caves. In the course of the afternoon, the boundary of General Rockey's division was extended about 200 yards to the east to facilitate the advance of the adjacent 3d Marine Division. As a result, General Rockey committed 3/26 on the right of the 28th Marines. Shortly before 1900, 3/26 relieved 1/21 and established contact with 3/9 on the right and 1/28 on the left. At the same time, 2/26 displaced forward as 28th Marines reserve.
While the 1st and 2d Battalions, 28th Marines, were making little progress in the extremely difficult and well defended terrain, 3/28 was making a steady advance with two companies abreast near the west coast. The battalion moved forward against moderate resistance until its assault elements on the left were ahead of those on the right, at which time they drew heavy fire from the right front. The battalion had gained about 350 yards and since the regimental attack to the right had stalled, 3/28 halted its advance. By the end of 1 March, Hill 362A and a rocky ridgeline extending to the west coast had been seized. In all, elements of the 5th Division held a 1,000 - yard front, which was exposed to heavy artillery and mortar fire from positions to the north. In order to obtain better observation over the northwestern coast of Iwo Jima, artillery observers were placed on board an LCI (G) which cruised up and down the northwest shore. This expedient was successful and several enemy positions were located and silenced.19
At the end of 1 March, the 5th Marine Division had taken a total of 12 prisoners; it was estimated that 3,252 of the enemy had been killed in the 5th Division area of responsibility.20 Casualties sustained by the division to this
date were 48 officers and 952 men killed, 161 officers and 3,083 men wounded in action, and 2 officers and 47 men missing.21 The capture of Hill 362A and the ridges on either side of it in a one day operation had cost the 28th Marines alone 224 casualties.22
While General Rockey's men were engaged in reducing Hill 362A, the adjacent 3d Marine Division had penetrated the enemy defense system in the center of the island and had pivoted to the northeast. This move threatened to open a widening gap between the 3d and 5th Marine Divisions. As a result, for 2 March, General Schmidt directed the 5th Marine Division to make the main effort on the right while maintaining contact with General Erskine's men. In order to carry out the newly assigned mission calling for an expansion of his boundaries, General Rockey committed the 26th Marines to the right of the 28th. For the continuation of the 5th Division attack on D plus 11, the fire of the 13th Marines was augmented by half of the corps artillery fires.23
At 0800 on 2 March, the 26th Marines jumped off along the division boundary with 3/26 in the assault. As the battalion moved forward, a gap arose on the left, and Companies D and F of 2/26 were committed to regain contact with 1/28. In the zone of advance of the 26th Marines the Japanese made maximum use of cleverly concealed positions, whose approaches were mined. Progress was correspondingly slow. Even though the terrain did not favor the use of armor and abounded in antitank obstacles, 3/26 requested tank support, and tanks from Company A, 5th Tank Battalion, spearheaded the attack.
Companies D and F of 2/26 were in the midst of blasting their way into and through the enemy defenses when the battalion had to shift to the right to close a new gap that had developed between the 3d and 5th Divisions. In executing the shift, the two companies had to disengage under heavy fire; they were further harassed by mortars and minefield. A solid line was finally formed in late afternoon just before nightfall. In order to fill the void created when the two companies of 2/26 were shifted to the northeast, it became necessary to commit 1/26.
Map VI: 5th Mar Div Zone of Action · Progress Lines · 2-10 Mar 45
When fighting came to an end on D plus 11, 3/26 had gained 500 yards. (See Map VI, Map Section). Responsible for these gains to a large measure were the division engineers, who moved alongside the assault units to clear minefield and open supply roads in the rear. In front of the 26th Marines, the enemy had mined the approaches to his pillboxes and permanent fortifications; without the help of the engineers, the advance of Colonel Graham's regiment on D plus 11 would have been doomed to failure. In the left of the 5th Division zone of advance, the 28th Marines jumped off at 0800 with its three battalions employing the same scheme of maneuver as on the previous day. The 1st and 2d Battalions were to attack around both sides of Hill 362A and join on the north side for a coordinated assault against
the next elevation 200 yards to the north. This obstacle, extending westward from the plateau almost to the water's edge, was squarely in the path of the 28th Marines. Beyond were the stark remains of what had once been a small hamlet called Nishi. From it, the elevation took its name: Nishi Ridge.
As the two battalions jumped off, they encountered undiminished resistance. Every time the Marines moved into the depression north of Hill 362A, they drew heavy fire from both the front and the rear. Tanks from Company B, 5th Tank Battalion, tried to give effective support, but were severely limited in their movements by the antitank ditch extending across their front.
As a result, the 28th Marines made only little progress. The 13th Marines gave all possible support to the infantry, concentrating its fire on enemy mortar positions identified from the air and through forward observers. Finally, elements of the regimental weapons company succeeded in setting up three .50 caliber machine guns to cover the caves that honeycombed the northern slopes of Hill 362A. Friendly mortar fire saturated the defile in front of the infantry.
Eventually, armored bulldozers of the 5th Engineer Battalion got close enough to the antitank ditch to fill in a portion of it. This permitted the tanks to move out and advance for 200 yards until the terrain narrowed and precluded any further forward movement. Caught in this type of cul de sac, the tank crews fought with the enemy at closest quarters. At 1400, tanks of Company C relieved those of Company B, which was beginning to run out of ammunition. En route to the front lines, the tanks of Company C, including a flame tank, blasted and burned enemy positions in the steep northern face of Hill 362A, from which the enemy was still firing into the rear of the advancing infantry.
The enemy made numerous attempts to destroy the supporting armor with satchel charges. Apparently, the appearance of tanks in close support of the infantry in terrain that all but precluded the effective employment of armor confounded the Japanese. One of the officers on General Kuribayashi's staff was to make the following comment on this subject:
"When American M-4 tanks appeared in front of Osaka Yama (Hill 362A), Lieutenant General Kuribayashi was very anxious to know how to dispose of this tank. Even our 47mm antitank gun could not destroy it, and at last came to the conclusion that bodily attacks with explosives was the only way to destroy it."24
Actually, the Japanese island commander may have overestimated the structural strength of the M-4 tank, which was indeed vulnerable to 47mm antitank fire. Nevertheless, the Shermans were indispensable on Iwo, and without them the assault might have failed. Ideally, a tank with heavier armament and a lower silhouette, as well as improved traction, would have been more desirable, but at the time of the Iwo Jima operation only the Shermans were available to the Marines engaged in the assault.
While the tanks were keeping the enemy to the rear occupied, Company E, 2/28, charged across the exposed terrain north of Hill 362A to the foot
of Nishi Ridge. Enemy reaction to this move was immediate and, in the words of the regimental report, "All Hell broke loose"25 as the Japanese fought back from the cliff line to the north, from Hill 362A, and from a blockhouse in front of and to the east of Hill 362A. Combined with the heavy enemy artillery and mortar fire was a counterattack by a large group of Japanese against 1/28. This attack was repulsed with 129 Japanese killed.
Losses among the Marines of 2/28 also were beginning to mount. Shortly after 1400, Lieutenant Colonel Chandler W. Johnson, commanding 2/28, was hit squarely by an artillery shell as he was inspecting the front lines. The battalion commander was killed instantly and the battalion executive officer, Major Thomas B. Pearce, Jr., assumed command. For the remainder of the afternoon, reserve units mopped up in the vicinity of Hill 362A, whose northern face was giving the advancing Marines infinitely more trouble than the southern slopes had.
While bitter fighting was raging along the center and eastern portion of the division line, 3/28 was advancing along a narrow front near the west coast. Movement in this area was seriously impeded by numerous caves and heavy enemy artillery and mortar fire. The caves were attacked and slowly neutralized with 37mm guns, heavy mortars, and demolition charges; a total of 68 were blasted during the day. At 0900 and again around noon, shells falling within the battalion zone of advance gave off a green-yellowish gas which induced vomiting and caused severe headaches to some of the men exposed to it. A brief gas scare resulted until it became apparent that only those men in the immediate proximity of a shell burst were affected; symptoms lasted only for a short time. In the end, the ill effects were ascribed to the presence of picric acid fumes.26
At 1700, VAC ordered the lines to be consolidated for the day. In the 5th Division zone of advance, fighting continued until nightfall, some of it at very close quarters. For the night, 5th Division Marines were generally dug in at the base of Nishi Ridge; on the far right, the 2/26 lines extended to the northeast along the division boundary where they tied in with 3/9 near Hill 362B. The biggest advance for the day had been made by the 26th Marines, which had gained 500 yards. There were indications that the regiment was moving into a different type of defensive position than had been previously encountered. There were fewer concrete fortifications and more rock barriers and tank ditches. Even though the enemy was resisting as fiercely as ever, he was abandoning some of his equipment. Items captured on D plus 11 were a generator truck found behind one ridge and a large searchlight behind another.
As night fell, the enemy made several attempts to infiltrate the 5th Division lines. About 50 Japanese sallied forth near Hill 362A and some of this force succeeded in getting into the Marine positions. Once the Marines became aware of their presence, bitter
hand-to-hand fighting ensued, in the course of which knives, sabers, pistols, and hand grenades were liberally used. The alertness of the Marines in dealing with the infiltrators led General Kuribayashi to report that "the lookout of American forces has become very strict and it is difficult to pass through their guarded line. Don't overestimate the value of cutting-in attacks."27 On the evening D plus 11, the battle of Hill 362A was over, but an even bigger challenge was to confront General Rockey's men for the following day: the capture of Nishi Ridge and Hill 362B.
On the morning of D plus 12, the 5th Marine Division resumed the attack with basically the same formations it had employed on the previous clay. From the very outset, both the terrain and enemy resistance combined to make it a difficult day. The 26th and 28th Marines were to make the main effort. In the path of the 28th Marines lay a series of gorges and ridges; in front of the 26th Marines the terrain was heavily mined; in addition, from strongly held Hill 362B, the enemy was able to sweep the area with fire. New roads would have to be dozed out before tanks could move in to support the advance. The attack jumped off at 0745. Supported by 75mm half-tracks, 37mm guns, and a reinforced tank platoon, 1/28 and 2/28 in the regimental center moved out and almost immediately ran into heavy mortar and small arms fire. As the two battalions inched forward, the men soon came to close grips with the enemy and numerous hand grenade duels were fought. Within two hours after the jumpoff, Nishi Ridge had been seized and the battalions prepared to move into the rugged terrain beyond. As the advance gained momentum, the 28th Marines swept down from Nishi Ridge into the remnants of Nishi Village, and by late afternoon had reached a point about 200 yards beyond, despite mounting casualties, for enemy resistance never slackened. At the close of the day, when the fury of the battle receded, 1/28 made further gains which brought it ahead of the other two battalions. Since morning, 1/28 had gained 500 yards, while 2/28 had scored gains of only 150 yards, as had 3/28 along the coast.
Nishi Ridge, Hill 362B And Beyond28
By far the most spectacular fighting and resultant gains were made in the zone of advance of the 26th Marines. The mission assigned to the 26th Marines for D plus 12 had been to advance northeastward to relieve elements of the 3d Marine Division near Hill 362B. The line of departure for 2/26 and 3/26 formed an inverted horseshoe with 3/26 on the left and 2/26 on the right. The two battalions moved out rapidly, even though both began casualties almost at once. Company B
of the 5th Tank Battalion supported the 2d Battalion by covering the left flank of Company F. Just as it had done on D plus 7 when first committed in the assault, this company smashed into the enemy defenses with great force and aggressiveness. Since, at the outset, the terrain was comparatively level and thus favored the employment of armor, the company commander was able to radio instructions to the armor through a tank liaison man assigned to the command post of 2/26. The assault swept on for about 300 yards before the open terrain changed into the deep gorges and rock formations characteristic of northern Iwo Jima. In these rocky badlands the battle continued, frequently man against man. The Japanese fiercely contested the advance behind every rock and boulder but could not stop it. In some of the most bitter fighting of the entire operation, every weapon at hand was brought into play.
By the time the forceful advance came to a halt, Company F had advanced more than 600 yards to the high ground to its front. Even then, the Japanese grimly contested every foot of the freshly seized ground, and numerous hand grenades continued to harass the Marines from cleverly hidden caves and gullies whose presence had hitherto been unsuspected. But the enemy was mortal, and bazooka shells accurately fired into such defensive positions usually eliminated this resistance in short order.
The 600-yard advance of 2/26 eliminated the horseshoe and for all practical purposes, straightened the line. With the severe threat to its left flank gone, 3/26 was able to launch an advance of its own, which resulted in a 200-yard gain. While Company F was tackling the enemy at close quarters, Companies D and E launched an attack northeastward along the division boundary in order to seize Hill 362B and relieve 3/9. The relief was completed by 1430 and the two companies, from positions just southwest of the hill, prepared for the assault.
When it came, at 1600, the battle for the hill proved to be a bloody one. Using rocket launchers, flamethrowers, demolitions, plus a goodly amount of sheer courage and will, the two companies forced their way to the top. The southern and western slopes of the hill were honeycombed with caves and pillboxes, each of which required an individual assault. By the time the crest of the hill was reached, both company commanders and many of their men had become casualties.
The advance made by the 5th Marine Division on 3 March was almost spectacular under the conditions in which the battle was fought. The cost of seizing this ground was correspondingly high. On D plus 12, the 26th Marines alone had 281 casualties.29 Total losses for the 5th Marine Division on 3 March were 9 officers and 127 men killed or dead of wounds, and 15 officers and 357 men wounded.30 As of D plus 12, total casualties for the division since D-Day numbered 4,960 officers and men.31
As the fury of the battle receded on the evening of D plus 12, the 5th Division lines extended from the west coast at a point roughly 200 yards north of Nishi Village along the northern edge of Motoyama Plateau to the crest of Hill 362B. All along the front, the casualty rate had reached alarming proportions and it became necessary to send men from headquarters and weapons companies into the line as riflemen to bolster the tired and depleted units.
Not all of the 5th Marine Division men were able to get much rest that night. In the sector of the 28th Marines, there were relatively few attempts at infiltration. It was another story in the 26th Marines area, where the enemy infiltrators appeared more aggressive and crowded the 26th Marines throughout the night. Almost all of the nearly 100 would-be infiltrators were killed.
Following an artillery preparation and rocket barrage, the 5th Marine Division resumed the attack on the morning of D plus 13. As the men jumped off in the same formation they had employed on the previous day, they were hit by intensive fire from small arms and mortars. Once again, the Marines advanced into terrain dotted with interconnected caves. The lines were now so close to each other that artillery support could be used only on special occasions. Because of a low cloud ceiling, the air support which had been scheduled for the day had to be cancelled.
The low clouds soon gave way to intermittent showers, which did little to lift the morale of the men who were still exhausted in spirit and body from the rigors of the preceding days' combat and lack of sleep caused by the continuous Japanese infiltration attempts of the previous night. The rugged terrain seriously limited the use of 75mm half-tracks and 37mm guns. With Japanese lurking all around them, the crews of these vehicles felt progressively more exposed to enemy fire. Beyond that, the enemy was beginning to take a toll in vehicles with mines, skillfully emplaced in the few avenues of approach available to the supporting armor.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the success attained on D plus 12 and the fighting on the following day was the fact that the attacks were not closely coordinated. Once again, the brunt of the battle was borne by small detachments, moving more or less haphazardly against those enemy caves and pillboxes that were unmasked. As a result, only small gains were made, even though in this jungle of rocks the bravery of the individual Marine continued undiminished. As on the previous day, losses were heavy and many of the combat units were operating at half strength or less. The enemy was noticeably more aggressive in the daytime than he had been before, and the 26th Marines beat back several counterattacks executed in company strength. Nowhere did the Japanese succeed in breaking through the 5th Division lines, but the counterattacks served to take additional steam out of the drive of the fatigued Marines, and net gains for the day remained practically nil. As one account of the day's operations put it, "The only successful move, in fact, was made by Division headquarters which
moved from its original location near the eastern beaches to a position north of Airfield No. 1 on the west side of the island.32 At about this time, General Kuribayashi shifted his headquarters from the center of Iwo Jima to a large cave in the northwestern section of the island, between Hiraiwa Bay and the ruins of Kita Village, where he prepared to make his final stand.
General Schmidt's order to his three divisions that 5 March was to be utilized for reorganization, resupply, and preparations for the resumption of the attack on the following day reached 5th Division units during the afternoon of 4 March. At a time when physical strength and fighting spirit were beginning to flag, this order was more than welcome. Logically, the day of rest would be used, above all, to funnel replacements into the depleted ranks of the frontline units. The exigencies of combat had already necessitated sending some men with specific and critical skills, such as demolition personnel and bazooka or flamethrower operators into the lines prior to 5 March. On the whole, except for small emergency details, replacements were sent forward when the combat battalions were out of the lines. Replacements, no matter how willing and well trained, always tended to present something of a problem before they were wholly integrated. The reasons for this were outlined in the following report:
Reports from infantry units indicate that the average replacement, upon being assigned to a rifle unit and immediately subjected to the type of fierce fighting encountered, was initially bewildered and terrified resulting from a mental attitude of his being "alone," and not knowing his leaders and companions on the battlefield. This lack of a sense of security, even when among battle-experienced troops, was brought about by his separation from contact with those with whom he had previously trained and not yet having become assimilated into a fighting team. Those who did not readjust themselves quickly had a high percentage of casualties since in their bewilderment they usually carelessly exposed themselves."33
For the resumption of the attack on 6 March, General Rockey directed 1/26 to relieve 1/27 and ordered the 27th Marines into reserve. At the same time, the 28th Marines was to reorganize so that 3/28 would take over the sector of 2/28. This would leave all three battalions of the 26th Marines in the line, the 28th Marines holding a front with 3/28 on the left and 3/27 on the right, and the 27th Marines, less the 3d Battalion, in reserve.
In accordance with VAC orders, combat activity by 5th Division units was limited to local attempts to straighten the lines during the morning. Throughout the day, artillery and naval gunfire were brought to bear on suspected enemy positions, and carrier aircraft flew 18 missions. Within the 26th Marines sector, a few tanks engaged in reducing caves and other strong points that were directly menacing the front lines. Those tanks not actually engaged with the enemy received badly needed maintenance in the bivouac areas.
Despite general inactivity on the part of the Japanese infantry, the 5th
Division suffered casualties through enemy action even on this day of rest. One of the tanks operating near the 26th Marines lines ran over a mine and was disabled, another was hit by enemy antitank fire. Japanese mortars continued to harass the Marines throughout the day, particularly when the enemy observed troop movements near Road Junction 338 northwest of Motoyama Village. Even though this junction was situated in the 3d Marine Division area, it constituted a supply road for the 26th Marines and other 5th Division units.
A particularly unfortunate incident occurred shortly after the relief of 1/27 by 1/26. The 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, was in the process of moving to an assembly area in the vicinity of Road Junction 338 when an enemy shell hit the jeep carrying the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel John A. Butler, who had been observing the relief. The battalion commander was killed, and two other men in the vehicle were wounded. Later that afternoon, Lieutenant Colonel Justin G. Duryea, the operations officer of the 27th Marines, took over command of 1/27.
While all three Marine divisions on Iwo remained in place and prepared to continue the assault, several important changes occurred to the rear, indicative of what had been accomplished and how much remained to be done. At the foot of Mount Suribachi, the 133d Naval Construction Battalion put into operation six portable water distillation units. The processed water was sent to the front and there was enough to furnish three canteens per day per man, a vast improvement over what had been previously available. As early as 3 March, the situation from a naval viewpoint had become relatively quiet. Unloading and evacuation progressed favorably over both the eastern and western beaches. It thus became possible for all of the assault shipping including the Defense Group and the Joint Expeditionary Force Reserve to retire to rear areas.
On the morning of D plus 15, it was business as usual for all three assault divisions on Iwo. The only change from the norm was that the heaviest artillery barrage thus far fired preceded the attack. Shortly before 0700, 11 artillery battalions, a total of 132 guns ranging from 75mm to 155mm in caliber, unleashed a tremendous bombardment of enemy positions in northern Iwo, followed by a rolling barrage. Offshore, a battleship, two cruisers, three destroyers, and two landing craft added their fire to that of the land-based artillery, which in little more than an hour expended 22,500 shells, some of them falling within 100 yards of the Marines waiting to jump off. At pretimed intervals, carrier planes strafed, rocketed, and bombed the enemy positions. The portion of the island still in Japanese hands literally rocked under the punishment being meted out, and it appeared that little could withstand such an extensive pounding.
As soon as they jumped off at 0800, the Marines of the 5th Division, as well as those of the two remaining divisions, discovered to their dismay that the barrage had done little to soften up enemy resistance. When the artillery fire lifted,
the Japanese, little the worse for wear, contested the advance of General Rockey's men from prepared bunkers, pillboxes, and caves. Marines attempting to advance north from Hill 362B immediately drew heavy rifle, machine gun, and mortar fire interspersed with white phosphorus shells. It was almost as if the heavy bombardment had never happened. The broken terrain all but precluded close tank support and, instead of a big push, the advance could be measured in yards. The vigorous drive to the O-3 Line that had been envisaged could not materialize under such conditions and the attack soon bogged down. By the end of the day, the 26th and 27th Marines had gained between 50 and 100 yards; the 28th Marines' advance bogged down altogether.
The only progress made could be measured, not in yards, but in the number of enemy caves and emplacements destroyed. Engineers operating with the 28th Marines were able to seal off numerous caves. As in preceding days, the Japanese harassed the advance from the front, flanks, and rear. Casualties were correspondingly heavy. The type of vicious close in fighting the Marines were engaged in during this period was reflected in the nature of the casualties evacuated to the rear. In the words of one observer:
At the Fifth Division hospital, Lieutenant Evans was noticing a change in the type of wounds coming in. They were bad ones, from close range sniper or machine gun fire. The earlier wounds, mostly from mortar bursts, had been numerous and ragged, but not so penetrating, The whole blood was being used as little as twelve days after it was given on the West Coast, but often it could not help.34
After the heavy volume of artillery fire on 6 March, expended with such little effect, VAC limited the use of ammunition, particularly for harassing missions. In his orders for 7 March,35 General Schmidt directed the 5th Marine Division to seize the high ground overlooking the sea with the main effort to be made in the northeastern portion of the division zone of action. Within this zone, the main effort was to be carried out by the 27th Marines, while the 26th and 28th Marines were to execute limited objective attacks.36
Just as General Erskine's division on the right jumped off for a surprise attack without an artillery preparation early on 7 March, so the 26th Marines, less 2/26 in VAC reserve, duplicated the maneuver on a minor scale. Jumping off 40 minutes prior to H-Hour without an artillery preparation, 1/26 and Company H, 3/26, set about to reduce the stubborn enemy defenses that had thwarted the regiment's advance on the previous day. After overcoming moderate resistance, the battalion reached a 30-foot knoll just north of Nishi Village. As Marines wearily surrounded this hill, enemy fire all but ceased. The sudden stillness was broken only when
The Drive To The Sea37
demolitions men blasted and closed one cave entrance, while machine gunners made short work of several of the enemy who rushed out of a rear entrance. Marines of Company H ran towards the top of the hill in a suspicious silence that was most unnatural for Iwo, until about 40 had gathered on the crest. Then the unbelievable occurred:
. . . The whole hill shuddered and the top blew out with a roar heard all over the island. Men were thrown into the air, and those nearby were stunned by the concussion. Dozens of Marines disappeared in the blast crater, and their comrades ran to dig for them. Strong men vomited at the sight of charred bodies, and others walked from the area crying. The enemy had blown up his own command post, inflicting forty-three Marine casualties at the same time.38
All that remained of the ridge was a mass of torn, twisted, and burning rock and sand. Smoke emerged from a ragged hole so large that it might well have harbored a good sized apartment building. Many of the men, not directly injured by the blast but stunned by the concussion, were staggering around in a daze. It remained for the commander of Company H, Captain Donald E. Castle, to gather the remnants of his men and lead them in a renewed attack.39
Meanwhile, 3/26 had also jumped off and almost at once ran into such heavy resistance that continuous fighting at close range, which lasted until nightfall, produced a gain of only 150 yards. Once again, even this meager advance had to be paid for with heavy casualties.
The 5th Marine Division main effort on D plus 16 was made by 2/27, supported by a company of 1/27. Following a 15-minute preparation by a battery of the 13th Marines, the battalion jumped off for an attack that was coordinated with elements of the 21st Marines operating beyond the division boundary. The objective was a stretch of high ground squarely astride the regimental zone of advance. Initially, good progress was made until the forward elements entered a draw directly in front of the first of a series of ridges. At this point, enemy machine gun fire, coming from two directions, raked the exposed men, who sought in vain to pinpoint the well-camouflaged positions. Casualties mounted as a 37mm gun was arduously manhandled to a forward position, from where it engaged the hidden machine guns with undetermined results.
Throughout the day, fighting raged at close quarters, each side making generous use of hand grenades. In the end, the overall gain for the 27th Marines on D plus 16 was 150 yards, similar to the ground seized by the 26th. Even such a limited advance, executed against a firmly entrenched enemy force
that contested every foot of ground with knee mortars, grenades, and deadly accurate sniper fire, was a major accomplishment. The task of the Marine infantrymen might have been greatly eased had tank support been available. As it was, the broken terrain was altogether impassable for armor. During the afternoon, platoon-sized elements of 2/27 attempted to outflank some of the enemy positions, only to be caught by heavy flanking fire that all but isolated them from the main body. A withdrawal became possible only with the help of a smoke screen. Fighting continued throughout the afternoon and individual enemy caves were assaulted and taken. But there was no way of telling how many hidden tunnels led into these caves, or how long it would take the enemy to restock them with new men and weapons after the Marine assault squads had moved on.
The only sign of progress of the 5th Marine Division on 7 March occurred on the division's left wing. There, in the zone of advance of the 28th Marines near the west coast, 3/28 and 3/27 dispatched combat patrols before the main body launched a general attack. These patrols moved out at 0900, met with little resistance, and reported this fact back to the regiment. One hour later, without any special artillery preparation, the main body moved out. There was scattered resistance, but not enough to delay the forward movement as 3/28 and 3/27 struck out in a northeasterly direction. In this instance, the extremely difficult terrain proved to be much more of an obstacle than the sporadic resistance encountered. In order to maintain the momentum of the attack, numerous caves were bypassed, to be mopped up later by 1/28 and 2/28. Mortar and rocket fire was directed well ahead of the advancing Marines; additional fire support came from a destroyer offshore.
By 1530, the two battalions had advanced about 500 yards over and through rocky gorges in terrain that was passable only for men on foot. Included in the ground taken this day was Hill 215, located about 500 yards northeast of Nishi Village, only 750 yards from the northern shore. The relative absence of enemy resistance in this sector was to be the most surprising development of the day's operations. In addition to making the longest advance yet in the 5th Division zone, the attacking units killed nine of the enemy in this area and captured one.40 According to the battalion action report, "a little further advance might have been made, but the positions for the night would have been weak, so the defenses were laid out in the area indicated."41
From the time the advance halted for the day until dusk, all three battalions of the regiment dug in for the night in the vicinity of Hill 215, while some of the Marines were engaged in mopping up in the immediate vicinity of the hill. In the midst of this activity, few Marines paid much attention to the fact that a stiff breeze had begun to blow from the north towards the American lines. This nonchalance changed to
near-panic when this ill wind was found to be:
. . . bringing with it eye-smarting sulphur fumes and smoke from a burning enemy ammunition dump. Unit commanders, always alert to the possibility of the enemy's employing poison gas, sounded an alert which brought hundreds of gas masks into use. The alarm soon passed, however, and CT 28 went on with its reorganizing.42
The 5th Division advance on D plus 16 had moved the lines forward from 500 yards in the west to 150 yards along the boundary with the 3d Marine Division, where resistance had been the stiffest. In support of the day's operations, naval gunfire had played a significant part. Following the tremendous expenditure of ammunition by the shore-based artillery on 6 March, VAC had restricted the use of the corps 155mm howitzers to "deliberate destructive fires against known enemy targets."43 The resulting gap in artillery support had been taken up by naval gunfire. All naval gunfire control parties received instructions to expend 500 rounds per ship. On the basis of data furnished by the corps intelligence section, the 5th Division intelligence officer, Lieutenant Colonel George A. Roll, assigned target priorities."44 Additional support was obtained through air strikes, even though the shrinking enemy perimeter and the proximity of the lines made such support a rather risky undertaking. Altogether, 119 carrier aircraft flew 147 sorties. The employment of napalm bombs was some-what less than successful: of 40 carried, 7 failed to release; of the 33 released, 7 failed to ignite.45 An additional 67 500-pound bombs, 170 100-pound bombs, and 426 rockets were not subject to technical failures, but no estimate as to their effectiveness against a well dug-in enemy could be obtained.
The night of 7-8 March was characterized by relatively light enemy activity, though it was far from quiet. In the zone of action of the 5th Marine Division, the Japanese kept things lively with small arms and knee mortar fire and hand grenades. Enemy patrols probed the Marine lines at various points. The only determined attempt at infiltration occurred in front of 1/26, where approximately 25 Japanese tried their luck. The attempt ended in dismal failure when the enemy, tripping flares in his stealthy approach, became a good target and was mowed down by the alert Marines.
The operations order issued by General Schmidt for D plus 17 was simple and to the point. Instead of naming phase lines to be reached in the coming day's assault, the VAC commander directed all three divisions "to capture the remainder of the island."46 For General Rockey's division, these orders meant that the main effort would continue to be made on the right by the 27th Marines, advancing to the northeast coast along the division boundary parallel to the movements of the adjacent 3d Marine Division.
The terrain over which the 27th Marines was to advance featured a series
of interconnected eaves and tunnels. All approaches to these defenses were heavily defended. Colonel Wornham planned to meet this challenge by having trails bulldozed into enemy terrain, over which the infantry could advance into close proximity of the enemy. Once there, Marines could reduce the Japanese fortifications at close range with time proven methods. As added insurance, tanks would support the infantry advance over the newly bulldozed trails.
At the first glint of dawn, prior to the jumpoff of 2127 scheduled for 0750, Shermans of the 5th Tank Battalion slowly crawled forward from their bivouac area over a previously reconnoitered route. In the rough, unfamiliar terrain, the tanks moved slowly and did not reach the front until 0930. Meanwhile, 2/27 had launched its assault on schedule, but little progress was made until the tanks arrived. The armor immediately Commenced cleaning out pillboxes and emplacements, permitting the infantry to move in close to caves in order to seal them. The enemy opposed the Marines with accurate small arms fire, grenades, and mortar fire. Despite this opposition and the heavily mined terrain, elements of 2:27 by 1030 had gained 100 yards. Company E, 2/27, reported killing 75 Japanese during the first two hours.47
On the battalion left, Companies D and F attempted an advance without tank support and were soon halted by heavy machine gun and mortar fire. A 15-man crew from Battery B, 13th Marines, manhandled a 75mm pack howitzer and 200 rounds of ammunition close to the lines to provide badly needed fire support. This unorthodox employment of artillery raised the eyebrows of the 1/13 intelligence officer, impelling him to leave this statement for posterity:
We thought this morning that this battalion had done everything it was possible for an artillery unit to do. We had landed under machine gun, artillery, and mortar fire; gone into position at night; repelled Jap pre-dawn counterattack on D plus 1; fired countless counterbattery missions; had snipers in our position area; participated in regimental missions; fired T.O.T. missions; had our observers on land, on sea, and in the air, and we hauled ammo all night. But today we detached No. 4 Baker and sent it forward to knock off some Jap pillboxes. A report came back that their fire on pillbox was very effective. This was a new twist but the same result--Japs destroyed.48
The infantry received additional support from rocket launcher crews who blasted the Japanese in their holes and buried them alive. Despite the punishment doled out to the enemy, neither company made much progress, and gains were limited to less than 100 yards.
In the center of the division line, the 26th Marines failed to make even that much progress. With 1/26 and 3/26 still in the assault, Colonel Graham's men found themselves facing a complex system of pillboxes and interconnected caves among the debris that was all that had remained of Kita Village. In the midst of such forbidding defenses, the regimental attack barely got off the ground and, at the end of another exhausting day, the regiment was still in
substantially the same position it had occupied prior to the jumpoff. A gain of 400 yards laboriously carved out by 1/26 during the day had to be relinquished at dusk because it was untenable.
The 28th Marines on the division left nearly equaled the previous day's advance. Moving along the coast against initially weak enemy resistance, 2/28 actually advanced another 500 yards. Once again, opposition became more stubborn on the regiment's right where 1/28 gained a respectable 300 yards. Both battalions covered the initial 100 yards before serious resistance developed, both from the front and the rear.
Within the limitations imposed by the terrain, the attached 75s and 37mm guns of the weapons company supported the regiment, as did the 81mm mortars. Ahead of the advance, naval gunfire attempted to neutralize enemy positions near the coast, while carrier planes struck twice at Hill 165, one of the last significant obstacles separating the 5th Division Marines from the northern shore. For these carrier aircraft, 8 March was the last day of support for the ground forces. Effective 9 March, such close support would become the responsibility of the Army Air Forces.
The violent battle of attrition raging in the craggy terrain of northern Iwo on D plus 17 was to have more than its share of personal drama in the informal setting of war. Tragedy struck within the setting of Company E, 2/27, which in the course of the morning had already scored an advance of 150 yards through engineer-tank-infantry teamwork. Only a jumble of rocks separated the Marines of Company E from the sea, but hidden behind every crag and in every crevice was an enemy determined to block any and all egress by the advancing Marines to the sea just east of Kitano Point.
As bitter close fighting raged in this inaccessible area, one man began to stand out among the rest of Company E. He was 1st Lieutenant Jack Lummus, a former gridiron star at Baylor University, now determined to overcome the final obstacle barring his men from the sea. Rushing forward at the head of his platoon, the lieutenant was knocked down by an exploding grenade. He got to his feet, shook off some of the dust, and rushed an enemy gun emplacement. A second grenade exploded, knocking him down again and shattering his shoulder. Undaunted, the platoon leader got up, rushed a second enemy position and killed all of its occupants. As his men watched, Lummus continued his rush. When he called to his platoon, the men responded, now moving forward with a deadly purpose. As the attack gained momentum, the entire company began to move, hesitantly at first, then with growing speed and assurance.
Lummus was still at the head of his men, viciously slashing at the enemy in his path, when the incredible happened:
Suddenly he was in the center of a powerful explosion obscured by flying rock and dirt. As it cleared, his men saw him, rising as if in a hole. A land mine had blown off both his legs, the legs that had carried him to All-American football honors at Baylor University. They watched in horror as he stood on the bloody stumps, calling them on. Several men, crying now, ran to him and, for a moment, talked of shooting him to stop his agony.
But he was still shouting for them to move out and the platoon scrambled forward. Their tears turned to rage, they swept an incredible 300 yards over impossible ground, and at nightfall they were on a ridge overlooking the sea. There was no question that the dirty, tired men, cursing and crying and fighting, had done it for Jack Lummus.49
Lieutenant Lummus died later that day and was subsequently awarded his country's highest decoration. Even in death his triumph over the enemy and the slaughter that was Iwo Jima was complete. His devotion to duty and personal sacrifice had supplied the impetus for the wild charge.50 A mixture of love and compassion for their leader, mixed with anger and frustration, had supplied the spark to an explosive mixture which set off a reaction that, for all practical purposes, was the American equivalent of the traditional enemy banzai charge.
Throughout D plus 17, tanks of the 5th Tank Battalion supported the infantry assault units as best they could. Tanks of Company B, backing up 2/27, advanced into an important enemy bivouac area replete with ammunition dumps, motor vehicles, and trailers. In the course of this advance, tankers observed at least 100 of the enemy killed, many of them wearing U. S. Marine uniforms.51 Eleven regular tanks and two flame tanks of Company C, 5th Tank Battalion, moved out in support of 2,/28 but soon were unable to keep up with the infantry advance when the engineers, who were checking the road for mines, were pinned down by sniper fire. As a result, tank support was limited to four rounds of 75mm and half a load of flame fuel in this area for the entire day. At about 1300, one platoon with a flame tank was dispatched to the center of the division zone of advance to support 1/26. Even though the area allegedly had been checked by the engineers, two of the tanks hit mines causing considerable damage to both. These tanks had to be abandoned after the guns and radio had been disabled.52
As fighting came to a close on the evening of 8 March, the 5th Marine Division had slashed deeply through the enemy lines and was within reach of the northern shore. It had rained intermittently throughout the day and the men were utterly exhausted. However, the enemy was in little better shape, as indicated by the following report submitted by General Kuribayashi on the day's action:
Troops at "Tamanayanla" and Northern Districts are still holding their position thoroughly and continue giving damages to the enemy. Their fighting situation believing their country's victory looks god-like.53
Two hours later, the Japanese commander conceded:
I am very sorry that I have let the enemy occupy one part of the Japanese territory, but am taking comfort in giving heavy damages to the enemy.54
On the evening of D plus 17, the 5th Marine Division stood within reach of victory, but more than two weeks of bitter fighting over the island's most
treacherous terrain in northwestern Iwo would be required before Japanese resistance within the division zone of action was broken. During 9 and 10 March, there was no forward movement, and General Rockey's men, with extreme exertion, were able to extend the division left flank about 40 yards. At this point, the 28th Marines came under intensive fire from the high ground that extended southeast from Kitano Point. This fire brought the drive to the northeast to an abrupt halt in front of a long, low ridgeline overlooking a deep gorge. This canyon was to become the final enemy pocket of resistance on Iwo Jima, where General Kuribayashi and the remnants of his garrison would fight to the bitter end. In the northeastern portion of the island, between Tachiiwa Point and Minami, in the 4th Marine Division sector, a second pocket occupied mostly by naval personnel, would soon become depleted following a reckless banzai charge.
By noon of D plus 18, within sight of the sea to the north, General Rockey's Marines still faced an uphill battle in some of the worst ground on Iwo. There, the ridges and gorges were so steep as to be almost impassable even for men on foot. As in more accessible areas, caves and dugouts abounded. This phase of the fighting, in the face of undiminished enemy opposition, is referred to in the official records as "a battle of attrition."55 For a number of days to come, the advance could be measured in feet instead of yards.
As on the previous day, another human drama, again involving the 27th Marines, was to be enacted in the front lines on 9 March. During the early afternoon, Lieutenant Colonel Duryea, commanding 1/27, and Major Antonelli, commanding the adjacent 2d Battalion, went forward to check their lines. They were headed back to the rear when:
. . . Duryea called to his runner, who was sitting on a rock, and the youngster replied "I'm coming Colonel." He took one step and was blown to bits. He had set off the detonator of a 6-inch naval shell buried in the ground to catch a tank. A huge fragment of the shell tore off Duryea's left arm at the elbow and another smashed his left knee. Antonelli fell, blinded by sand. Duryea, still conscious, could not see his left leg, doubled under him and thought he had lost it. Thinking an attack was under way he shouted to the others, "Come here, come here. Don't go away." He tried to roll over to get the pistol under his right hip, but could not. A captain ran to get corpsmen, and they bundled Duryea and Tony Antonelli into stretchers. Duryea's left leg dangled off the side, and a bullet pierced it, breaking it.56
With the two battalion commanders out of commission, the executive officers of the two battalions, Major William H. Tumbelston and Major Gerald F. Russell, assumed command. The detonation had also wounded the company commander and another officer of Company E, as well as the intelligence officer of 2/27. Major Antonelli, despite his eye injuries and a broken eardrum, refused evacuation until he had issued orders for the resumption of the attack. Subsequently, the indomitable battalion
commander walked out of the division hospital and returned to his unit until Colonel Wornham personally ordered him to return to the hospital. The following day, Antonelli was back at the battalion command post, where he remained during the daylight hours for another week until Colonel Wornham requested his evacuation from the island to prevent further injuries.57
Aside from routine operations on 9 March, two developments occurred. One was indicative of progress made in developing Iwo Jima as an air base. The other showed to what extent the combat units had been depleted. During the difficult fighting along the north coast, Army Air Forces P-51s went into action for the first time, strafing and bombing the enemy-held gorges in precision attacks that drew admiration from the Marines on the ground.58 Nevertheless, this impressive air support failed to break enemy resistance or morale, and the results remained inconclusive.
At noon of 9 March, General Rockey decided to bolster the dwindling combat strength of his infantry units by sending personnel from the supporting arms to the front. On the morning of 10 March, 100 men of the 13th Marines joined 3/28 as riflemen. About the same number reinforced 3/26. The 1lth Amphibian Tractor Battalion furnished 55 men for 3/27 and slightly more than 100 men from the 5th Motor Transport Battalion joined 1/28.
While the Marines were still able to reinforce their frontline units, such expedient was denied to General Kuribayashi. In the narrow strip of coast separating the 5th Division from the sea, the northern pocket had been compressed into an area less than one square mile in size. Caught in this pocket were General Kuribayashi and his division headquarters, elements of the 2d Battalion of Colonel Ikeda's 145th Infantry Regiment, remnants of the Cd Battalion, 17th Independent Mixed Regiment and a conglomeration of stragglers from other units. Altogether, Japanese Army and Navy strength in northern Iwo came to approximately 1,500 men.59
At 0800 on 10 March, the 5th Marine Division continued its attack against enemy opposition that was undiminished in ferocity. On the division left, the 28th Marines made an advance of 200 yards before it was stopped by fire from a ridge running generally southeastward from Kitano Point. The 26th Marines gained roughly 100 yards in almost impossible terrain. The 27th Marines destroyed numerous enemy caves and pillboxes in close-in fighting, but progress was minimal. By the end of D plus 19, after another day of heavy and costly fighting, the lines of the 27th Marines were substantially the same as they had been that morning.
Throughout the day, the 5th Marine Division attack was supported by shore-based and naval gunfire, as well as air
strikes. Once again, the effectiveness of this support could not be accurately gauged by the exhausted Marines on the ground. It was obvious by this time that it was becoming increasingly difficult to make effective use of these supporting arms because of the rapidly diminishing area held by the enemy. At the same time, the bombs and heavy gunfire directed in heavy concentrations against a shrinking pocket were bound to hurt the enemy. This is best confirmed by the messages emanating from General Kuribayashi's headquarters on the evening of 10 March. Beginning on a fairly confident note, the Japanese commander reported that, "even though American attacks against our northern districts are continuing day and night, our troops are still fighting bravely and holding their positions thoroughly."60 Changing to a more plaintive note, General Kuribayashi continued:
. . . 200 or 300 American infantrymen with several tanks attacked "Tenzan" (northern Iwo in the 5th Division sector) all day. The enemy's bombardments from one battleship (or cruiser), 11 destroyers and aircraft are very severe, especially the bombing and machine gun firing against Divisional Headquarters from 30 fighters and bombers are so fierce that I cannot express nor write here. Before American forces landed on Iwo Jima, there were many trees around my Headquarters, but now there are not even a grasp of grass remaining. The surface of the earth has changed completely and we can see numerous holes of bombardments.61
In its two-week drive up the coast of western Iwo Jima between 25 February and 10 March, General Rockey's division had covered about 3,000 yards from the vicinity of the Central Airfield to a line that ran from West to east across the base of the northern tip of the island. In the course of this advance the division had sustained more than 4,000 casualties.62
Indicative of the severity of enemy opposition is the minute number of prisoners taken by D plus 19. Altogether VAC had seized 111 prisoners since D-Day. Of this figure, only 67 were Japanese, the remainder consisting of Korean labor troops.63 At the same time, 8,073 enemy dead had been counted in the 5th Marine Division sector.64 On the evening of 10 March, no one could guess how much more blood would be shed before the battle for Iwo Jima was over.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (VI-8) * Next Chapter (VI-10)
1. Unless otherwise noted, the material in this chapter is derived from: ComPhibPac AR, Iwo Jima, 12Jan-26 Mar45, dtd 19May45, hereafter ComPhibPac AR; TF 51 AR; TF 56 AirRpt; TF 56 G-3 Rpt; VAC AR; VAC G-2 Rpts; VAC C-3 Jnl; VAC C-3 Rpt; VAC NGF and AirRpts; VAC Translations; 5th MarDiv AR; 5th MarDiv D-1 Jnl; 5th MarDiv D-2 Jnl, Iwo Jima, 19Feb-27Mar45, hereafter 5thMarDiv D-2 Jnl; 5th MarDiv D-2 Per Repts; 5th MarDiv D-3 Jnl; 5th MarDiv Casualty Rpts; 1st ProvFld.ArtyGru G-1 Jnl, 9Jan45-15 Mar45, hereafter 1st ProvFldArtyGru G-1 Jnl; 13th Mar UJnl; 1sth Mar AR; 26th Mar UJnl; 26th Mar AR, Iwo Jima, 1Jan 26Mar45, dtd 20Apr45, hereafter 26th Mar AR; 27th Mar UJnl, Iwo Jima, 19Feb-22Mar45, hereafter 26 th Mar UJnl; 27th Mar AR, Iwo Jima, 19Oct44-23Mar45, dtd 18Apr45, hereafter 27th Mar AR; 28th Mar UJnl; 28th Mar AR; 28th Mar R-2 Jnl; Horie Rpt; Iwo Comments; Barley, Iwo Monograph; Newcomb Notes; Morehouse, Iwo Jima Campaign; Morison, Victory in the Pacific; Henry et al, U. S. Marines on Iwo Jima; Isely and Crowl, U. S. Marines and Amphibious War; Conner, The Fifth Marine Division; Smith and Finch, Coral and Brass; Robert Leckie, Strong Men Armed; Newcomb, Iwo Jima.
2. Additional material in this section is derived from: 5th TkBn UJnl; 5th TkBn AR; 2/26 UJnl; 2/26 Obs Rpt, Iwo Jima 18Feb-23Mar45, hereafter 2/26 ObsRpt; 2/26 AR, Iwo Jima, 19Feb-27Mar45, dtd 18Apr45, hereafter 2/26 AR; 3/26 UJnl; 3/26 AR, Iwo Jima, 19Feb-26Mar45, dtd 19Apr45, hereafter 3/26 AR; 1/27 UJnl; 1/27 AR, Iwo Jima, 19Feb-23Mar45, dtd 20Apr45, hereafter 1/27 AR; 2/27 UJnl; 2/27 AR, Iwo Jima, 10Nov44- 23Mar45, dtd 17Apr45, hereafter 2/27 AR; 3/27 UJnl; 3/27 AR, Iwo Jima, 10Nov44-23Mar45, dtd 10Apr45, hereafter 3/27 AR.
3. Conner, The Fifth Marine Division, p. 81.
4. 13th Mar AR, p. 13.
5. Conner, The Fifth Marine Division, p. 85.
6. 5th MarDiv AR, Anx M, pp. 12, 15.
7. 2/26 AR, p. 8.
8. Ibid., p. 6.
9. On Iwo Jima, as in other military operations in the Pacific Theater during World War II, the U. S. Marine Corps employed specially trained Navajo communicators or "talkers," whose language was not known to the Japanese and thus not open to enemy translation. In tactical situations where time was of the essence, precious minutes were gained since radio voice transmissions could be used without coding or decoding.
10. Conner; The Fifth Marine Division, pp. 86-87.
11. 5th MarDiv AR, App 3, Sec VIII, p. 15.
12. Additional material in this section is derived from: 5th Eng Bn AR, Iwo Jima, 19Feb- 26Mar45, dtd 13Apr45, hereafter 5th EngBn AR; 1/26 AR, Iwo Jima, 15Nov44-26Mar45, dtd 19Apr45, hereafter 1/26 AR; 1/28 AR, Iwo Jima, 19Feb-26Mar45, n.d., hereafter 1/28 AR; 2/28 OpRpt; 2/28 AR, Iwo Jima, 19 Feb- 26Mar45, dtd 10Apr45, hereafter 2/28 AR; 3/28 AR, Iwo Jima, 19Feb-26Mar45, n.d., hereafter 3/28 AR.
13. 26th Mar AR, App. 4, p. 9.
14. BGen John S. Letcher ltr to CMC, dtd 13Mar53, in Iwo Comments.
15. Craig ltr.
16. VAC OpRpt, p. 28.
17. Morison, Victory in the Pacific, p. 64.
19. 5th MarDiv AR, pp. 23-24.
20. Ibid., p. 24.
22. Morehouse, Iwo Jima Campaign, p. 53.
23. VAC OpO 10-45, dtd 1Mar45.
24. Horie Rpt, p. 8.
25. 28th Mar AR, p. 27.
27. Horie R.pt., p. 9.
28. Additional material in this section is derived from: 133d NCB AR; 2 /13 UJnl, Iwo Jima, 19Feb-2711ar45, hereafter 2/13 UJnl; 2/13 AR, Iwo Jima, 27Oct44-21Mar45, n.d., hereafter 2/13 AR; 3/13 UJnl, Iwo Jima, 19- Feb-17Mar45, hereafter 3/13 UJnl; 3/13 AR, Iwo Jima, 27Oct44-21Mar45, n.d. hereafter 3/13 UJnl; 4/13 AR, Iwo Jima, 27Oct44-21Mar 45, dtd 7Apr45, hereafter 4/13 AR.
29. 26th Mar WarD, Mar45.
30. 5th MarDiv Casualty Rpts, dtd 25Jun45.
32. Conner, The Fifth Maine Division, p. 95.
33. 5th MarDiv AR, Anx A, p. 14.
34. Newcomb, Iwo Jima, p. 247.
35. VAC OpO 14-15, dtd 6Mar45.
36. 5th MarDiv OpO 13-45, dtd 6Mar45.
37. Additional material in this section is derived from 1/13 UJnl; 1/18 AR, Iwo Jima, 27Oct44-21Mar45, dtd 5Apr45, hereafter 1/18 AR.
38. Newcomb, Iwo Jima, p. 252.
39. This was the first time that men of the 5th Marine Division had become involved in a disaster of this type. A similar incident, on a somewhat smaller scale, involved 2/24 of the 4th Division on Roi-Namur in November 1943. Then, a large blockhouse used to store aerial bombs and torpedo warheads blew up as the Marines surrounded it. At the time, in an instant, the battalion suffered more than half of its total battle casualties for the operation. Proehl, The Fourth Marine Division, p. 29.
40. 3/28 AR, 7Mar45.
42. Conner, The Fifth Marine Division, p. 101.
43. VAC OpO 14-45, dtd 6Mar45.
44. 5th MarDiv D/3 PerRpt No. 17, dtd 7Mar45.
45. VAC AirRpt, Encl A, p. 5.
46. VAC OpO 15-45. dtd 7Mar45.
47. 2/27 AR, p. 12.
48. I/13 G-2 memo, dtd 8Mar45, in 1/13 UJnl.
49. Newcomb, Iwo Jima, p. 256.
50. 27th Mar AR, p. 13.
51. Co B, 5th Tk Bn AR, p. 7.
52. Co C, 5th Tk Bn AR, p. 7.
53. Horie Rpt, 1800, 8Mar45.
55. 5th Mardiv AR, p. 26.
56. Newcomb, Iwo Jima, pp. 262-263.
57. Conner, The Fifth Marine Division, p. 108.
58. On 10 March, the VAC air officer reported: "The precision low altitude work of the P-51s was particularly pleasing to the ground troops." VAC Air Rpt, Encl A, p. 6
59. Horie Rpt, p. 10.
60. Ibid., 1930, 10Mar45
62. These losses consisted of 830 killed in action, 2,974 wounded, 263 died of wounds, 5 missing in action, and 220 cases of combat fatigue, a total of 4,292 casualties.
63. A breakdown of this total by divisions is as follows: the 3d Marine Division had captured 49; the 4th Marine Division 28, and the 5th Marine Division, 34. Bartley, Iwo Monograph, p. 148.
64. 1/13 G-2 memo, dtd 11Mmar45, in 1/13 UJnl.