Chapter X

Medical Aspects

The extremely bitter and protracted assault on Iwo Jima imposed a tremendous burden on supporting medical units. From the first bloody days, when doctors and corpsmen clung grimly to fireswept beaches, to the end of the battle, a stream of wounded men passed along the chain of evacuation to receive excellent medical attention in spite of the difficult military and supply situation.

Hospital LST's lying 2,000 yards offshore played an important part during the first nine days, receiving casualties from the beaches and distributing them to APA's and hospital ships for further treatment. Initially, casualties were carried from the beach to LST(J)'s in landing craft, LVT's, and DUKW's, but as surf conditions grew worse and small landing craft could no longer approach the beaches, amphibian vehicles assumed the entire burden. The DUKW's proved most satisfactory as they handled well in the surf and alongside ships and provided greater comfort for the patients than the wet, bouncing LVT.1

The LST Ozark operated efficiently as an auxiliary hospital ship, augmenting facilities of the Bountiful, Samaritan, and Solace (hospital ships) and the Pinkney (hospital transport). Together with departing transports, these ships evacuated a total of 13,737 casualties from Iwo Jima.2 Another 2,449 patients were air lifted to the Marianas. The wounded were examined by flight surgeons before take-off to make sure that they could stand air travel, and corpsmen or naval nurses accompanied each flight. This preflight screening was an improvement over previous operations, and its effectiveness can be judged by the fact that no deaths occurred on board the planes.3

Distances from front lines to battalion aid stations were short at Iwo, but the difficult terrain and heavy enemy fire made evacuation activities extremely hazardous. Weasels and LVT's were initially most valuable for transportation of casualties to the beaches, but when roads were pushed forward jeep ambulances carried the bulk of thousands of wounded men.

The prolonged enemy use of artillery, mortars, and rockets resulted in a high percentage of especially severe wounds, accompanied by extensive loss of blood and great shock. The availability of whole blood for treatment of such casualties undoubtedly saved many lives. Landing force medical facilities alone used 5,406 pints, and the total used for care of Iwo Jima patients up to D-plus-25 reached 12,600, or slightly less than one pint per man evacuated.4


Congestion ashore delayed the setting up of hospitals. Airfields, gun positions, supply dumps, and command posts competed with medical installations for the limited space available, but by dispersing into allotted areas these facilities "literally dug themselves a place on the island"5 with the help of hard-working bulldozers. Ward tents went up in airplane revetments or simply in long trenches. Engineers converted empty Japanese cisterns into excellent operating rooms by building roofs over them, and portable plywood operating rooms were set up in large holes covered with tarpaulines to keep out dust and cold. Engineers also installed lighting to make possible around-the-clock treatment.6

In contrast to the heavy battle casualties, other medical problems were slight at Iwo Jima. Early application of DDT solution by hand spray and later by carrier-based TBM's and Iwo- and Marianas-based C-47's measurably controlled flies and other pests. No diseases occurred among the troops that could be attributed to insects.7

Medical personnel serving with front line units and beach evacuation stations suffered very high casualties. They were subjected to intense enemy fire as they moved about caring for the wounded and were frequently shot down alongside men they sought to help. Acts of heroism and self-sacrifice were common among these men as they worked tirelessly to administer first aid. Casualties among doctors and corpsmen totals 738, including 197 killed.8

NAVY SURGEONS worked round-the-clock to save lives. This is a portable plywood operating room.


Enemy fire, deep volcanic ash, heavy surf, and congested beaches combined to make the supply problem at Iwo Jima singularly difficult. Marine shore parties, Navy beach parties, and ships' crews labored hard and courageously to surmount the many obstacles that made the early phase a nightmare. And then followed more days of grueling effort once general unloading commenced.

The first supplies to reach shore were standard loads of approximately 700 pounds of small-arms and mortar ammunition, rations, and water carried in each of the assault LVT's. After discharging troops and this initial load of supplies, the amphibian tractors returned to designated LST's to take on balanced loads of ammunition, water, rations, and medical supplies to be landed on order of the division logistical control officers in response to request from ashore.9 The Clever-Brooks 31/2-ton amphibian trailers, towed by LVT's, also carried preloaded emergency supplies ashore on D-Day. But these unwieldy carriers proved to be "one-time shippers" and were seldom used again after the initial trip to the beach.10 Floating dumps of signal gear and other high priority cargo were also established in landing craft for early call to the beach.


During the first few days, supply was on a hand-to-mouth basis, with all efforts directed at keeping up with urgent needs of the troops. Supplies landed in LVT's and DUKW's frequently went directly inland without rehandling on the beach. These vehicles and the agile little weasels handled most of the transportation from the beach to inland dumps and front lines until about D-plus-4 when roads became passable for wheeled traffic.11

The Iwo Jima operation saw the introduction of new uses for Marston matting and armored bulldozers on the landing beaches. The hinged sections of pierced plank matting were carried to the objective in anticipation of soft sand and proved of tremendous value in providing the only usable roadways over the beaches early in the operation. The armored bulldozer, covered with steel plate to protect both driver and machine, operated on the beaches to level sand terraces and cut routes of exit inland. Late in the operation, the 5th Division borrowed several

CASUALTIES BEING HOISTED ABOARD SHIP. Hospital ships and transports evacuated a total of 13,737 men from Iwo. (AF Photo)


of these machines from the shore parties to use in clearing routes through the rock-filled, scrub-covered gorges just south of Kitano Point. Here they performed as well as on the beaches as the operators were protected from the still-heavy fire of last-ditch Japanese defenders.

In the opinion of the Attack Force Beach Party Group Commander, Captain Carl E. Anderson, USNR, the Marston matting and armored bulldozers ". . . 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."12

Cranes also played an important part in movement of supplies across the beaches. Navy commands proved more than willing to furnish shipping to lift any equipment that would expedite unloading so that cargo vessels could be released for other tasks. The vast logistical experience of Admiral Hill, whose Task Force 53 transported and landed the Marines and their equipment, was invaluable. He had an exact knowledge of requirements, and his recommendations covered ample cargo-handling equipment for the operation.13

The pioneer battalions comprised the basic component of their respective division shore parties, with the 133d and 31st Naval Construction Battalions providing equipment operators and cargo handlers for the 4th and 5th divisions. In addition, two Army port companies and Marine service and supply units performed special missions as part of the shore party organizations.

LST RIDES HIGH IN THE WATER after discharging its cargo. Beaches were still littered with wrecked landing craft and vehicles when this photo was taken on D-plus-9. Amphibian trailer in foreground was an unwieldy onetime shipper. (Navy Photo)


ORDER CAME OUT OF CHAOS and Iwo Jima became a busy seaport as tons of supplies poured across the beaches. Note the large number of cranes on this small strip of beach.

The largest sources of labor for ships' platoons and shore details, however, were the replacement drafts. The use of these men as a labor pool providing strong backs and willing hands to handle cargo was generally very satisfactory from the standpoint of those responsible for keeping supplies moving.14 But troop commanders who depended upon these same men to replace battle casualties were disappointed. Having arrived too late for thorough integration into divisions before the operation, these replacement were thrown into battle lacking experience and without even a nodding acquaintance with the leaders of units to which assigned.15

Liaison teams from the 8th Field Depot, which functioned as the corps shore party, accompanied the 4th and 5th Divisions in the initial landing and rendered such assistance as they were able. Beginning on D-plus-3, units of the field depot began landing and were assigned to assist the divisional shore parties, both of which suffered from severe casualties and fatigue. When control of landing operations passed to the corps on D-plus-5, the field depot took over smoothly and unloading continued without interruption. Enemy fire still harassed beach areas, causing temporary stoppages of beach activities, and the turbulent surf continued, but by D-plus-6, when general unloading began, conditions were approaching "normal." After west coast beaches were opened to small landing craft on D-plus-11, the tight supply


situation eased somewhat as cargo vessels moved from coast to coast to meet variable weather conditions. At no time during the assault was there heavy surf on both beaches at the same time, and the vital ship-to-shore movement of supplies continued.16

Despite many difficulties involved in moving cargo ashore, the only serious shortage that developed was in ammunition.17 The unusually heavy demands placed on artillery and mortars to support the attack consumed the seven units of fire carried in the assault shipping as fast as it could be landed, and by the time resupply ships arrived these initial stocks were seriously depleted.18

Unloading of ammunition resupply ships proceeded very slowly because of heavy seas and the fact that the cargo was not loaded for selective discharge. In many cases, much valuable time was lost shifting noncritical items in order to gain access to the vitally needed types (mainly 105mm artillery and 81mm mortar shells.)19 There were days when division ammunition dumps contained as little as 300 rounds per artillery battalion after completion of pre-K-Hour firing, and after D-plus-7 it became impossible to maintain a really adequate supply at the artillery regimental dumps. On several days the artillery battalions fired more ammunition than was unloaded during the same period.20 Following the campaign, logistics officers recommended that the allowance of ammunition carried in assault shipping be increased from seven to ten units of fire for artillery and mortars, or that the unit for those weapons be increased.21

Minor temporary shortages of ordnance spare parts, 60mm mortar illumination shells, grenades, and CO2 cylinders for charging flamethrowers were made up by efficient air delivery from Saipan. This marked the first extensive use of air resupply by the Marine Corps.22

The Iwo Jima operation provided the first test of the newly formed permanent control organization of the Amphibious Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet. This agency was established following the Marianas campaign to provide

WEASELS were used to haul supplies to forward positions, carry wounded Marines, string communication wire, and perform many other useful tasks. Here Marines unload 81mm mortar shells from weasel-drawn trailer.


trained personnel and specially equipped control vessels for the 24-hour-a-day task of directing the ship-to-shore movement. In this control group, officers representing the transport division and squadron commanders and CTF 53 paralleled the echelons of the beach and shore parties.

On D-Day the first five waves were dispatched as directed by the central control officer to insure a simultaneous landing on all beaches, but then transport squadron representatives took over with central control assuming a supervisory role.23 Rough seas, cluttered beaches, and a shortage of lighterage threw almost insurmountable obstacles in the way of this well-conceived control organization after the well-regulated early assault.24 Some beaches were crowded with unloading craft and ships, while at the same time others did not support enough activity to keep the shore party busy. At times supply vessels were held off shore for long periods when they might have been unloaded. Control personnel and beach parties often learned the nature of the cargo in landing craft only after the vessel had beached.

The Marine divisions felt that transport squadron commanders were too reluctant to decentralize control and that transport division control officers should have been permitted to direct all traffic for their own beaches.25 The Navy, on the other hand, complained that troop requests for supplies were not channeled through the control vessels and that there was a marked tendency for commanders ashore to send requests direct to the ships concerned or to higher echelons without notifying the beach control officer and embarked troop representative.26

Under the circumstances, however, the wonder is not that things were confused, but that the vast quantities of supplies actually crossed the beaches so quickly. Expertly handled ship-to-shore communications and a high degree of coordination between Navy and Marine logistical control personnel afloat and ashore did much to overcome the difficulties inherent in the situation.27

In his summary of the operation, Admiral Hill paid fitting tribute to men of his command:

This operation was an extremely difficult one, not only for the troops ashore, but for the ships afloat, and particularly for the small craft and personnel engaged in the ship-to-shore movement. . . . It is with great pride that I pay tribute not only to the FIFTH Amphibious Corps for its heroic assault . . . but to the officers and men of this task force who, although many of them were engaged in their first operation, accomplished their tasks with determination, resourcefulness, and disregard of personal danger that was an inspiration to behold.28


The VAC received excellent engineer support during the operation. Marine engineers and their skilled Seabee partners accomplished the routine and, to some, colorless, but highly important tasks of road building, operation of water points, and miscellaneous command post, hospital, and supply dump construction jobs. But other missions were far from monotonous and required courage and determination while in close and violent contact with the enemy.

Division engineers working in support of Marine tanks exposed themselves to heavy fire as they removed mines and punched tank trails through the rocky terrain of northern Iwo. Although infantry battalions were equipped and trained to use assault demolitions against enemy emplacements, the unusually large number of caves and fortifications encountered necessitated extensive use of engineer demolitionists with assault units.

Quarries yielded excellent sand-clay fill that greatly facilitated the construction of roads. This material required little mechanical stabilization, and a daily motor patrol, shaping and filling where necessary and sprinkling with water, sufficed to keep the roads in usable condition.29 This same material was also used in the rehabilitation and extension of Airfield number 1 and made possible the early completion of a short strip for land-based observation planes. After the 2d Separate Engineer Battalion


REHABILITATION AND EXTENSION OF THE AIRFIELDS was given high priority. Seabees are shown operating rollers, and huge front-dumping scrapers as they lengthen the east-west runway of Airfield Number 2. (AF Photo)

(Marine) had met this first urgent requirement for an OY strip, complete rehabilitation of the field commenced with Marines and the 62d Seabees sharing the work. Men of the 2d Bomb Disposal Company (Marine) cleared duds and mines ahead of the heavy construction equipment and work progressed rapidly. The two short runways were completed on 4 March, and by 12 March the long, 5,800-foot strip was handling heavy traffic, although emergency landings had been made on it as early as 4 March.

Naval Gunfire

Iwo Jima was the desperate answer of the Japanese to the crushing amphibious might of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. On this tiny isolated island General Kuribayashi did everything in his power to devise a defense to stymie the great naval juggernaut that he knew would strike. Realizing that naval guns and aircraft would quickly destroy fortifications in the vulnerable waist of the island, the general avoided exposing any large part of his force there. Most of the weapons were emplaced in the more rugged and dominating terrain to the north and around the base of Suribachi in the south. The Japanese commander insisted that positions be deep, and when necessary he sacrificed fields of fire in favor of protection; measures made possible by the large number of guns available for defending the small island. All positions were well camouflaged and cleverly positioned to avoid detection from air or sea.

Against these defenses United States naval guns were only partially successful. Area fire did little damage, and long or medium range bombardment was not effective. Targets were so heavily reinforced by earthworks that extremely close-range fire was required to uncover them before the essential job of destruction could begin. Admiral Blandy's report on the preliminary bombardment summarizes the problems in this way:

. . . It was not until after fire support ships, their spotting planes, and the support aircraft had worked at the objective for two days, had become familiar with the location and appearance of the defenses, and had


accurately attacked them with close-range gunfire and low-altitude air strikes, that substantial results were achieved.30

Granted that Japanese ingenuity had developed Iwo Jima into the most difficult target yet encountered by United States Forces in their progress across the Pacific, none of the problems was entirely new. Previous amphibious assaults had amply demonstrated that against such defenses only deliberate, short-range destructive fires would be effective. And both Marine and Navy commanders knew that even under the most favorable conditions this method of bombardment was extremely time consuming.

With this knowledge, Marine officers made repeated requests for an extended period of preliminary bombardment. In the light of the same experience, naval commanders denied the requests and made the unfortunate decision to limit the softening-up period to three days. The strategic considerations that prompted the navy to turn down Marine pleas for more preparation are present in Chapter II of this monograph and need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that the Navy had not allowed itself sufficient time to perform its mission adequately.

Considering the difficult schedule to be met, the gunfire support ships turned in a very creditable performance. As Kuribayashi had predicted, impressive damage was inflicted on weapons and installations in the relatively exposed areas on and adjacent to the east coast landing beaches. Almost all the blockhouses and pillboxes in that area were knocked out prior to the assault, and the light antiaircraft

TELEPHONE WIRES were overheaded to keep them out of the way of vehicles. A large stock of poles was carried to Iwo for this purpose.


guns around the airfields all received some damage.

The most spectacular and perhaps important accomplishment prior to D-Day was the destruction of the threatening coast-defense guns concealed in the cliffs above the quarry. But this came as a gift. Had these guns not disclosed their positions on D-minus 2 by opening up prematurely on the LCI(G)'s they would probably have survived to oppose the landing. The tragic damage inflicted on the converted landing craft by these quarry guns and those at the foot of Suribachi was only a sample of what they could have done to assault shipping and boat waves on D-Day. As it was, they marked themselves for certain destruction.31

The Navy had known about the guns located at the base of Suribachi; therefore, disclosure of previously unknown enemy weapons on D-minus 2 was limited to three guns near the quarry. Admiral W.H.P. Blandy, CTF 52 at Iwo, furnishes the following information relative to the location and destruction of these powerful positions:

". . . that the destruction of the heavy coast defense guns was due to their opening fire . .  upon the LCI(G)'s . . . should be confined to the guns in the cliffs above the quarry. In that position the photographic intelligence available to my task force showed only one gun, whereas the battery actually contained four guns. But at the base of Mount Surbachi, our photographs had shown the entire battery of four guns, and we had these earmarked for destruction before D-Day. However, it is true that the stark necessity for destroying all eight of these coast defense guns was more strongly impressed than ever upon all of us after observing the heavy damage inflicted upon the gunboats. And I am positive that every one of these guns was destroyed by my force.32

With the silencing of these coast-defense batteries the Navy succeeded in eliminating all high-velocity weapons capable of delivering direct fire on boats or landing beaches.

The Amphibious Support Force accomplished its primary mission, but other installations that could have been knocked out prior to D-Day remained virtually untouched. Such targets included pillboxes and covered emplacements between Airfields 1 and 2, and those east and west of Airfield Number 2. The ground here did not resemble the rough, jumbled topography of southern approaches to the Motoyama Plateau. It was largely accessible to direct fire at relatively short ranges from vessels standing off the southern coasts. Eight days of slow, costly infantry action passed before Marines cleared this terrain. With additional time available for pre-D-Day firing, naval guns might have accomplished much in this area to facilitate its capture.33

Once troops were ashore, naval gunfire performed the usual scheduled and call-fire missions by day, and conducted harassing and counterbattery firing at night to the satisfaction of the Marines. The cooperation of these vessels, from the largest battleship to the small, specialized gunboats, was excellent. The nature of the terrain continued to limit their effectiveness, however, and in most instances only neutralization was obtained. Supporting ships and craft were quick to observe enemy activity and take it under fire after first checking with units ashore to determine that the shelling would not endanger friendly troops.

Expenditure of naval ammunition at Iwo were enormous, greater than in any previous operation in the Pacific. Troop requests for illumination and close-support missions were so great during the early phase of the fighting ashore that on D-plus-3 the Navy imposed limitations on the number of 5-inch common and 5-inch star shells to be fired per day. To meet this reduction in availability of stars, the divisions employed various methods of coordination


to achieve more efficient illumination across the front.

The daily allowances of 5-inch bombardment ammunition proved to be adequate in all but a few instances, when permission was granted to exceed the quota. No serious disadvantage appears to have resulted in either case. During the period D-minus 3 to D-plus-35, support ships fired 152,000 rounds of 5-inch common and 17,000 rounds of star shells. When expenditures of all other types larger than 40mm are added to the above, the total reaches a staggering 291,300 rounds with a combined weight of 14,250 tons, 3,000 tons greater than the total used at Saipan.34 [and approximately equal to the "Little Boy" Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima! -- HyperWar]

Perhaps the best analysis of the effectiveness of naval gunfire at Iwo Jima is found in the following extract from "Instructions of War" telegraphed from Kuribayashi to the Chief of the General Staff in Tokyo during the operation:

We need to reconsider the power of bombardment from ships. The beach positions we made on this island by using many materials, days and great efforts, were destroyed within three days so that they were nearly unable to be used again. . . .

Power of the American warships and aircraft makes every landing operation possible to whatever beachhead they like, and preventing them from landing means nothing but great damages. . . .35

Air Support

During the three days of preparation bombardment aircraft operations were hampered by the same factors that limited the success of naval gunfire. The high-level bombing by Marianas-based B-24's over a period of several months did little more than disrupt airfield operations on the island, the primary mission of these flights. Admiral Durgin's escort carrier pilots, on the other hand, worked on all defenses that would interfere with the landing or oppose the assault once troops were ashore. The combination of bad weather, excellent camouflage, and extremely heavy fortifications created tremendous problems for the escort carrier planes.

In addition, the armament used by these support aircraft proved entirely inadequate. Bombs were far too small to smash the massive buried blockhouses even when located and subjected to pinpoint attack. And napalm, sorely needed to burn off extensive camouflage, failed to ignite in many cases. The 5-inch rocket proved the most effective aerial weapon, but only because of its accuracy, not destructive power. Carrier units probably made their greatest contribution to preliminary bombardment operations by furnishing combat air and antisubmarine patrols and performing spotting missions for naval gunfire.

Carrier pilots accomplished more on the third day of preparation fires than during the previous two days combined. With clear sky and increased familiarization with terrain and targets, Navy flyers struck enemy fortifications with greater accuracy and deliberation. Concentrating on specific objectives on the slopes of Suribachi and emplacements overlooking the East Boat Basin, carrier aircraft struck repeatedly with bombs and rockets throughout the day of D-minus 1. But even these persistent attacks elicited only a very reserved comment from the advance commander, air support control unit, who felt that the attacks ". . . conceivably weakened the areas commanding the landing beaches."36

The first Tokyo raid (16-17Feb) by the Fast Carrier Force (TF 58) prevented the enemy from taking any large counteraction to pre-D-Day operations at Iwo, and thus contributed substantially to the preparation effort. But the magnificent neutralization strike against the landing beaches on D-Day by Marine and Navy pilots from TF 58 was an assist more readily appreciated by assault Marines watching and waiting to head into those beaches. Until their departure three days later for a second strike against Empire targets, planes from this unit were a powerful supplement to the support force carrier squadrons. During this time, air was able to comply with all requests for ground support.

On D-plus-4, after the large flat-tops had withdrawn northward, a shortage of ground support aircraft developed. Air-sea rescue operations, strikes against the Bonin Islands,


TOP OF SURIBACHI two months after D-Day. A lookout station and Air Force radar equipment have replaced Japanese guns. (AF Photo)

antisubmarine patrols, and other special tasks used planes that should have been available for ground-attack missions. This short supply of aircraft became even more critical when escort carriers retired a considerable distance from the island for refueling. This last condition improved later through assignment of oilers to carrier operation areas closer to Iwo Jima.37

When pilots were on station and targets easy to identify from the air, planes responded quickly to ground requests. A number of strikes were completed within 15 minutes after initiation of the request, but, unfortunately, in most cases troops had to wait more than an hour for this valuable aid. Time was wasted while air liaison teams tried to break in on the overcrowded Support Air Request Net (SAR), and more minutes passed in long briefings, target location, and dummy runs for verification. Liaison parties with the infantry were seldom cleared to coach close support aircraft on to targets during the operation. They limited themselves, for the most part, to passing observations over the SAR net to the support air director, who in turn relayed this information to the air coordinator directing the strike.

With reference to this weak link in the functioning of supporting arms, some postoperation suggestions evolved. The three Marine divisions agreed that in the future air liaison parties (ALP's) should be given more direct control over strike aircraft in execution of close support missions. These teams carried radio gear with which to establish air-ground communication, and air officers exposed themselves repeatedly to move up to positions from which they had good observation of enemy positions.38

Performance of pilots and control personnel improved as the operation progressed, and it was possible to continue troop support beyond the point when construction of enemy-held territory and the consequent proximity of friendly forces would normally have caused termination of such activities. Even after the escort carriers withdrew, Army P-51's carried out a few carefully planned and coordinated attacks against hostile positions at the northern tip of the island.

During the 25 days from D-Day through D-plus 24, aircraft flew 341 missions against Iwo targets, expending approximately 1,315 tons of bombs, 12,148 rockets, and 456 napalm bombs.


When the napalm ignited, its effect was good, but it failed so often to do so that results were disappointing. Ground officers were also dissatisfied with the performance of the 500-pound bombs against heavy emplacements. Even with delayed-action fuses, which were not available until late in the campaign, these 1/4-ton bombs were inadequate for the job.

Destruction of enemy emplacements is not the only way that air supports ground action, however, and aerial observers played an important role throughout the battle. This was the first time in the Pacific that extensive use was made of fighter-type aircraft for spotting assignments. These planes, flown by specially trained pilots of VOC-1, performed well and proved to be a valuable augmentation to the float planes normally used to spot naval gunfire. marine artillery and tactical observers from the divisions operated in torpedo bombers from carriers until the light observation planes of the VMO squadrons became shore based.

For night tactical observation over the island, the three divisions had embarked officers on the carrier Saratoga, and during the first two nights of the operation they performed five flights totaling 25 hours. But when that carrier retired after suffering severe damage during the Japanese air attack on 21 February, those valuable missions ceased. It was noticed that the mere presence of a plane overhead had considerable effect in holding down enemy mortar and artillery fire. This was particularly apparent at dusk and dawn when carrier aircraft were not available, but the OY's were operating. In an attempt to extend this dampening effect through the hours of darkness, VMO pilots flew several successful night missions from the unlighted airfields.39

Enemy antiaircraft fire was "moderate to intense" during the early part of the operation, diminishing to sporadic outbursts from blockhouses and concealed positions as the ground advance overran the larger concentrations of automatic weapons around the airfields and at Nishi, Minami, and Higashi. Japanese gunners scored numerous hits, accounting for 26 planes lost and nine seriously damaged. In addition,


many returned to base with holes in wings and fuselage to attest the accuracy of these guns. Total casualties to pilots and crewmen were 36, with 32 killed or missing. The figures given above do not include losses from operational failures or as a result of flights over Chichi Jima.40

Generally speaking, the performance of all personnel connected with air support was excellent and much improved over past operations. This was a result of the accumulated training and experience, and the increased emphasis placed on air support of ground troops by all echelons of command, both Navy and Marine Corps.41


Standard artillery tactics and doctrine proved sound at Iwo, but the organic weapons were inadequate for the task of destroying the type of emplacements encountered. The 105mm and 75mm howitzers of the divisional artillery battalions were completely unsuited for this work. Even the much heavier 155mm shells of corps units required ten to 12 hits, all in the same place, to inflict major damages on many of the imposing Japanese fortifications.42

Like air and naval gunfire, artillery was severely handicapped by limited observation. Forward observers could seldom see more than 200 yards to the front, and in the more rugged areas, particularly in the 4th Division zone of action, this visibility was often reduced to 100 yards. As a result, although forward observers controlled the majority of missions, a greater dependence had to be placed on airborne spotters, especially for counterbattery and destruction missions.

The divisional artillery battalions landed under control of their respective artillery regiments and remained in that status during the entire operation. Normal employment placed one battalion in direct support of each assault regiment with the others in general support or reinforcing the direct support units. The 155's, in general support, employed their fires in accordance


with the corps scheme of maneuver, allotting the bulk of such reinforcement to the division making the main effort. At times throughout the campaign heavy concentrations were accomplished in a particular zone by shifting the efforts of corps and some divisional units from one front to another ahead of echeloned attacks. The commanding officer, 1st Provisional Field Artillery Group, exercised over-all coordination in his capacity as corps artillery officer.

The majority of the missions fired by corps 155's were counterbattery. Considering the difficult conditions of observation and detection and the rugged construction of enemy gun positions, these weapons performed well in their primary role. The lighter division howitzers also expended large quantities of ammunition in counterbattery fire, but gained more neutralization than destruction. Only when an alert and lucky forward observer caught a hostile gun in the open could the 105's and 75's cause any considerable damage.

Failure to detect and engage vital targets before the close proximity of infantry precluded use of the 155's proved a serious obstacle to efficient utilization of the corps howitzers. Commenting on this after the battle, the corps commander wrote:

It is considered that the major lesson learned relative to the employment of artillery capable of destroying enemy fixed installations is the necessity for anticipating such requirements and taking all possible measures to effect such destruction before our front lines are so close as to make firing of heavy calibers impracticable. This can be effected by a more intensive utilization of deep support fires combined with low-level aerial photography to discover such installations before our troops are so close as to prevent the utilization of medium artillery and naval gunfire in the destruction.43

In some areas, barrages that lifted progressively on a time schedule ahead of the troops were successful. This was especially true in the 3d Division zone between the second and third airfields, but in other areas where the ground was more broken this technique accomplished little.

Ammunition expenditures by the 168 howitzers of the 14 battalions on Iwo were fabulous. A breakdown of the 450,156 rounds fired is shown below:44

Number and type of weapon: Number
rounds fired
  48 75mm howitzers 181,510
  96 105mm howitzers 224,851
  24 155mm howitzers 43,795

Supporting Arms Coordination

Three basic ingredients contributed to the successful coordination of supporting arms at Iwo Jima: Close personal liaison at all levels, good communications, and a mutual understanding of the special capabilities and limitations of each weapon. Coordination started at the battalion level with the commander or his representative discussing the plan of attack with his liaison officers and drawing up a request for supporting fires. This process was repeated at regiment where the request from subordinate units were reviewed and modified when necessary or desirable.

On division levels, final coordination was achieved by the commander or his representative and the division air, naval gunfire, and artillery officers. These officers acted upon regimental requests and, after adding other mission based on the over-all scheme of maneuver, molded them into a consolidated fire plan.

The systems of coordination employed at the three division headquarters were basically the same, but the more formalized technique of the 3d Division, with a special installation known as the "supporting arms tent," worked particularly well. The following extract from that unit's action report best serves to describe the method:

The basic method of coordination between supporting arms was to achieve close personal liaison on all levels. Targets were freely interchanged according to the method of attack best suited, and, whenever operations were in progress or prospect, the artillery, naval gunfire, and air officers were together or readily accessible to each other by wire. Plans for scheduled fires or Pre-King Hour preparations were habitually prepared jointly, and so presented to the G-3, Chief of Staff, and the Commanding General. Much of the success achieved may be traced to the separate maintenance of a "supporting arms tent," so-called, adjacent


to the G-3 Section. In this center, wire communications converged from the division switchboard, from the similar 5th Amphibious Corps establishment, from the division artillery fire direction center, and from the naval gunfire and air radio centrals. It was thus possible to establish any sort of communications necessary, and to plan without interruption, while being within a few steps of the G-3 section.45

The concept governing use of supporting arms at the corps level was that aircraft and naval gunfire vessels performing troop support missions are in effect additional artillery with the corps. Accordingly, the corps commander designated his corps artillery officer as coordinating agent.46 Coordination was accomplished by close liaison between the corps artillery, air, and naval gunfire officers and the Commander, landing Force Air Support Control Unit, in the Joint Operations Rooms on board the Auburn (AGC) and later through facilities of the supporting arms tent at corps headquarters ashore.47

During the 10 days of the operation when air support was under the Expeditionary Force Air Support Control Unit on board the Eldorado (AGC), coordination between air and artillery was difficult because of slow communications. Fortunately, there was little high-ordinate gunfire, and support air directors could send planes on missions without a detailed check on artillery.48 When control of support air passed to the Landing Force Air Support Control Unit ashore, which set up in close proximity to the corps supporting arms tent, this difficulty was largely eliminated.49

Corps coordinators determined when artillery fires would have to be restricted to permit air strikes and passed the information to the various commands for action. In addition, the general support missions of ships and corps artillery were planned in the supporting arms center. Since a majority of the ships were assigned to direct support of the divisions, most of the coordination between naval gunfire and artillery

AFTER THE BATTLE twisted steel reinforcing rods form latticework through which B-29's and P-51's are viewed from inside demolished Japanese blockhouse. (AF Photo)


A VALUABLE AIR FACILITY only 660 miles from Tokyo appeared on Iwo Jima after only a few short months of American hard work and know-how.

took place at divisional level. No effort was made to rearrange division plans because changes would have arrived too late for proper execution.50

The functioning of the supporting arms center was never completely effective owing to lack of enough qualified personnel for continuous operation. Furthermore, coordination at all echelons was handicapped by a lack of time. But the over-all effect was good. Subordinate units planned the use of supporting weapons as best they could, and in general duplication of effort was eliminated before requests reached the implementing agencies.51


Without highly efficient communications, Iwo Jima could never have been taken. Control, coordination, and supply all depended on the hundreds of radio and wire nets that connected ships to shore, air to ground, and headquarters to headquarters ashore or afloat. This is, of course, an obvious truth, but it is too often overlooked. The communication personnel of all echelons and services involved in the operation deserve high praise and due credit for their excellent performance of duty.

There were cases of enemy jamming and interference from other friendly sets, but operators learned to communicate through the jamming in most cases, and interference between units of the assault force was corrected by juggling channels. Some nets, such as the Support Air Request Net, were overcrowded, and only by enforcing strict radio discipline could they function adequately.

The terrain was favorable for voice radio transmission, and full use was made of the "walkie-talkie" (SCR-300) and the lighter "spam can" (SCR-536) radios by platoons, companies, and battalions. Artillery forward observers using the much heavier and bulky SCR-610 radios recommended that more SCR-300 channels be made available so that they too could use the easily carried "walkie-talkie."

The short distances involved and the slow movement of the front lines permitted compact but elaborate wire nets. Important lines were duplicated to minimize the effects of enemy fire, and where possible wires were overheaded, using two-by-four poles brought along for that purpose. Lines on the ground suffered frequent


damage from vehicles, especially tanks and tractors, and wiremen worked long hours trouble shooting and repairing breaks.

Navajo Indian talkers were used extensively in the transmission of secret message by voice radio. With the corps and division headquarters afloat for the first several days, this was the only available means for sending highly classified traffic over the air. Their complicated Navajo language was completely unintelligible to anyone not of the same tribe and security was assured. The military vocabularies of the Indians were so different that each division had to assign two of its own talkers to corps headquarters to insure understanding.52


In the savage struggle at Iwo Jima, the amphibious forces of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps proved that, given control of the surrounding seas and skies, they could seize any objective, no matter how powerful its guns and emplacements or how stubborn and skillful the defenders.

But the 6,821 Marines, soldiers, and sailors who lost their lives did not die to prove the soundness of existing amphibious doctrine. The operation was planned and executed in accordance with the grim necessities of the air war against Japan. Strategically located Iwo Jima had to be taken.

The urgency of their mission was impressed on Marines assaulting the island defenses long before the fighting ended. The first distressed B-29 Superfort made an emergency landing on Airfield Number 1 on 4 March (D-plus-13) and by 26 March, 35 other Twentieth Air Force bombers were saved by now-friendly Iwo. Development of the air facilities progressed rapidly under Major General James E. Chaney, USA. Sand-clay strips rapidly gave way to an elaborate system of black-top runways and dispersal areas, and fuel storage tanks and repair shops mushroomed to support the bustling air activities.

Mustangs of the VII Fighter Command began their escort duties on 7 April when 108 P-51's made the long flight from Iwo to cover a daylight B-29 attack on Tokyo. This mission was followed by other similar trips and fighter sweeps against ground targets in the main islands. It had been expected that these long-range fighter activities would be Iwo's major contribution to the air war. But when the big bombers from the Marianas shifted to night incendiary raids, without escort, the island became more important as an intermediate base that greatly increased the efficiency of B-29 operations against the Empire.

By the end of the war, a total of 2,251 Superforts carrying 24,761 crewmen landed on the island. A large number of these would have been lost if Iwo had not been available. An excerpt from Impact, a wartime publication of the Army Air Force, describes what Iwo Jima meant to the men who made the long, dangerous run to Japan:53

. . . Located about midway between Guam and Japan, Iwo broke the long stretch, both going and coming. If you had engine trouble, you held out for Iwo. If you were shot up over Japan and had wounded aboard, you held out for Iwo. If the weather was too rough, you held out for Iwo. Formations assembled over Iwo, and gassed up at Iwo for extra-long missions. If you needed fighter escort, it usually came from Iwo. If you had to ditch or bail out, you knew that air-sea rescue units were sent from Iwo. Even if you never used Iwo as an emergency base, it was a psychological benefit. It was there to fall back on.

In the final analysis, battles are won not by machines but by men trained to fight, wanting to live, but unafraid to die. Iwo Jima has come to symbolize the courage and offensive spirit that brought victory to the Armed Forces of the United States in World War II. The 24 Medals of Honor awarded for valor during the campaign reflect the high level of individual and collective heroism characteristic of that action. Countless other acts of selfless bravery went unnoted in the holocaust of Iwo, but the then Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal, expressed his "tremendous admiration and reverence for the guy who walks up beaches and takes enemy positions with a rifle and grenades or his bare hands."54


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (9) * Next Appendix (I)


1. TF 56 MedRpt, 8, 9.

2. TF 53 OpRpt, Pt VI, 5, 12.

3. TF 56 MedRpt 6. TF 51 Rpt, Pt V, H, 9: Report of the (Army) Surgeon General, Monthly Progress Report, Sec 7, Health for June, 1945.

4. VAC MedRpt, 12; TF 56 MedRpt, 19.

5. Ibid., 21.

6. Ibid.

7. 4th MarDiv Logistics Rpt, Appendix 2, 30.

8. U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine, Statistics Division, "World War II Casualties" 1Aug52.

9. VAC Rpt, Annex C, Appendix 6, 3; 4th MarDiv Logistics Rpt, 12.

10. VAC Logistics Rpt, 47-49.

11. VAC Rpt, Annex C, Appendix 10, 33.

12. Ibid.; ltr RAdm C.E. Anderson, USNR (Ret) to CMC, 26Nov52.

13. Ltr BrigGen L.S. Swindler (Ret) to CMC, 14May53, hereinafter cited as Swindler.

14. VAC Shore Party Commander, Special Action Report, Iwo Jima Campaign, 30Apr45, 9, hereinafter cited as VAC Shore Party SAR; 5th Shore Party Rpt, Encl A, 21, Encl B, 33. The 4th MarDiv Shore Party was not as well satisfied as the others, however, and its report states, "The problem or organizing, disposing of, and applying the efforts of such disjointed units combined with the immediate requirements for them by RCT's precluded efficient application of replacement personnel in shore party activities ashore." 4th MarDiv Logistics Rpt, Appendix 1, 42.

15. CG VAC 1st endorsement Ser 02/162, 24May45 on 4th MarDiv ltr Ser 01971 over 156/nhb, 18May45; Isely and Crowl, 457, 458.

16. TF 53 OpRpt, Pt III, B; VAC Shore Party SAR, 15; Swindler.

17. TF 56 Logistics Rpt, 13.

18. VAC Logistics Rpt, 10, 11; 4th MarDiv Logistics Rpt, 22.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid., Appendix 4, 3.

21. VAC Logistics Rpt, 13; TF 56 Logistics Rpt, 19.

22. VAC Logistics Rpt, 12, 16.

23. CominCh P-0012, 5-2, 5-3.

24. VAC Shore Party SAR, 18.

25. 5th MarDiv SAR, Annex D (Supply), Iwo Jima Operation, 31Mar45; 4th MarDiv OpRpt, Pt III, 16.

26. CTF 53 ltr Ser 046, 2Apr45.

27. Isely and Crowl, 519, 520.

28. CTF 53 ltr Serial 046, 2Apr45.

29. 4th MarDiv Logistics Rpt, 24.

30. TF 52 SAR 10.

31. See Chap II of this monograph for the narrative of this incident.

32. Ltr Adm W.H.P. Blandy, USN (Ret) to CMC, 6May53.

33. VAC NGF Rpt, 21-22.

34. TF 51 Rpt, Pt V, C, 39; VAC NGF Rpt, 45.

35. As quoted in Horie, Appendix, 1.

36. TF 52 SAR, Encl D, 4.

37. TF 51 Rpt, Pt V, E, 7.

38. 4th MarDiv OpRpt, Annex C, 6-7; 5th MarDiv SAR, Annex G, Appendix 1, 3; 3d MarDiv SAR, 49.

39. 4th MarDiv OpRpt, Annex C, 11.

40. TF 56 IntelRpt, 13; TF 51 Rpt, Pt IV, 9-23.

41. Ibid., Pt V, 3, 40.

42. VAC ArtyRpt, 29.

43. CG, VAC endorsement to VAC ArtyRpt.

44. VAC ArtyRpt, Encl F; 14th Mar OpRpt, 35; 12th Mar SAR, 21; 13th Mar SAR, 56.

45. 3d MarDiv SAR, 53.

46. VAC OpPlan No 3-44, Annex H, Appendix 5.

47. VAC NGF Rpt, 38.

48. TF 51 Rpt, Pt V, E, 34.

49. ASCU Rpt, 4.

50. VAC ArtyRpt,: Encl P, 4.

51. Ibid.

52. VAC SigRpt, 5,

53. Office of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Intelligence, Washington, D.C. "Iwo, B-29 Haven and Fighter Springboard," Impact, Vol III, No 9, Sep-Oct45, 64.

54. As quoted in the New York Times, 26Feb45, 1, col 6.

Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation