During the early morning hours of 19 February 1945, the assault shipping of Admiral Hill's Attack Force, carrying the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions, arrived off Iwo Jima and combined its huge convoy with Admiral Blandy's Amphibious Support Force, already lying close off the island's shores. As darkness gradually dissolved, the silhouettes of over 450 ships of the United States mighty Fifth Fleet became sharpened in the dawn. This vast armada--larger than any ever before assembled for a Pacific operation--tended to dwarf the tiny island.
D-Day--19 February 19451
At 0640 guns of the heavy support ships boomed into action, and the Pre-H-Hour bombardment got underway. Given this last chance to silence the heavy Japanese guns that dominated the boat lanes and beaches, gun crews turned-to with grim determination. The generally poor weather that had hampered the preliminary bombardment since D-minus-3 gave way to fair skies, unlimited visibility, and a gentle breeze from the north that did little more than ripple the surface of the placid sea.
As tons of hot, destructive steel tore into the island, LST's and transports eased slowly into assigned areas and made ready to disgorge their cargo of fighting men and machines. Bow doors yawned open and ramps dropped slowly to the water; APA's lowered landing craft, which circled monotonously as they waited to receive troops. On the tank decks of the LST's all was noisy activity as motors started and assault Marines clambered into their assigned LVT's to await the launching signal. This came at 0725, and 20 minutes later 482 amtracs that would carry eight battalions into battle were churning the water.
With only minor exceptions, all phases of pre-H-Hour preparation were going smoothly according to plan.2 At 0805 naval guns lifted their fire as 72 fighter and bomber planes from Admiral Mitscher's Fast Carrier Force roared in to attack the eastern and northern slopes of Suribachi, the landing areas, and the menacing high ground on the north flank of the eastern beaches with rockets, bombs, and machine guns. Following on their heels, 48 additional fighters, including 24 Marine Corsairs (F4U's) led by Lieutenant Colonel William A. Millington, came in to ravage the same areas with napalm, more rockets, and machine-gun bursts. During these strikes, gunfire support ships moved in closer and assumed the positions from which they would deliver final neutralization fires.
To the uninitiated spectator the scene may have appeared to be confusion unlimited. But
TROOP-LADEN LVT'S churn shoreward under cover of intensive naval barrage. (Navy Photo)
observers on the command ships could see order emerging, and it was apparent that the 0900 H-Hour would be met. At 0830 the first wave (68 LVT(A)'s) crossed the line of departure and headed for shore behind gunboats that poured rockets and 40mm shells into the beach before turning right and left to positions from which they continued to support the flank battalions.
Thirty minutes were allotted for each assault wave to travel the 4,000 yards from the line of departure to the shore, and as hundreds of naval shells continued to pass overhead, successive waves crossed the line with 250 to 300 yards between them. Admiral Rodgers' battleships were now firing from close-in positions, and their devastating barrage smashed viciously at the eastern beaches to paralyze the enemy while Marines closed for action. At 0857, with the leading armored amphibs nearing their objectives, naval gunfire shifted inland and to the flanks. Simultaneously, the planes returned, snarling down to strafe the beaches in a magnificent display of close support, continuing as the waves moved shoreward. Up from the south past Suribachi they roared, swooping low over the shore as they attacked, then executed sweeping turns to the right to escape hostile ground fire. When the first LVT(A) hit the beach, the bullet impact area was shifted 500 yards inland.3
The LVT(A)'s of the first wave set their tracks down on Iwo Jima at 0902 and commenced grinding forward. They soon found, however, that the terrace immediately behind the beach (up to 15 feet high) masked the fires of many. Those that could not give effective support retracted from the beach and covered the landing of troops by engaging inland targets from the water. Three minutes later (0905) the second wave (first of the troop-carrying waves) waddled up out of the water, and as ramps were lowered all along the 3,500-yard strip of dark, repulsive looking beach, Marines of the 4th and 5th Divisions swarmed
out of their vehicles and hit the volcanic sand at a run that slowed almost immediately to a laborious walk as their feet sank ankle deep into soft, loose volcanic ash.
General Rockey's 5th Division and General Cates' 4th Division landed abreast on beaches GREEN, RED, YELLOW, and BLUE, each with two reinforced regiments in the assault. From left to right these were: 28th Marines (Colonel Harry B. Liversedge), 27th Marines (Colonel Thomas A. Wornham), 23d Marines (Colonel Walter W. Wensinger), and 25th Marines (Colonel John R. Lanigan). Still under cover of the naval barrage, these units hastily reorganized and commenced the inland push. During these first few minutes Japanese resistance was light. Both divisions reported only scattered mortar, artillery, and small-arms fire, and excepting a few land mines, no man-made obstacles were found on the beaches.
As the troops moved forward, stumbling and dragging themselves up the incline of the first terrace to clear the beach, some dared to entertain the optimistic thought that estimates of enemy strength had been considerably exaggerated or that the naval gunfire and air bombardment during the softening-up period had been even more effective than expected. As it turned out, however, the enemy garrison--even larger than intelligence reports indicated--was following General Kuribayashi's carefully made plan. During the terrific Pre-H-Hour bombardment, the Japanese defenders had waited in well-prepared underground positions, emerging only after the fire had lifted ahead of advancing troops. The beaches themselves were not heavily manned, but enemy guns emplaced on Suribachi and in commanding positions on the northern plateau had been registered to execute prearranged fires on all landing beaches.
The enemy reacted quickly all along the line, but particularly on the right, in the 4th Division zone of action. Beach YELLOW 2 was subjected to moderate mortar fire within two minutes after the fist wave landed, and by 0920 troops on both YELLOW and BLUE beaches were reporting heavy enemy fire. To the south, the 5th Division encountered lighter resistance initially, but by 0935 GREEN and RED beaches were under a brisk mortar barrage. As Marines advanced beyond
LVT'S pass through line of control craft on way to beach.
NAVAL GUNFIRE lifted inland and to the flanks as troops landed. Support ships can be seen in the foreground. (Navy Photo)
protection of the first high terrace, they received intense machine-gun and rifle fire from well-concealed pillboxes, blockhouses, and caves.
Congestion along the shore mounted dangerously as LVT's and landing craft became casualties. Direct hits by mortars and artillery were not the only reasons for trouble on the beach. As jeeps and trucks rolled out of landing craft, they became bogged down in soft sand even before clearing the ramp. Unless a tractor was available to snake these vehicles free immediately, the small craft, with bow pinned to the beach, often broached and swamped, thus compounding the clutter at the water's edge. But, somehow, landings and the inland push continued. Confronted by stiffening resistance and mounting casualties, troop leaders led their men forward. Intrepid Navy coxswains continued to bring their craft in to the shore, skillfully maneuvering them into position. Many of these coxswains whose boats were hit, or had become stranded, immediately joined Marines ashore and assisted with any task necessary. By 1030, elements of all eight assault battalions were on the island. From left to right these were: 2/28, 1/28, 2/27, 1/27, 1/23, 2/23, 1/25, and 3/25.4
On the corps' southern (left) flank the 28th Marines landed with the 1st and 2d Battalions in column. Lieutenant Colonel Jackson B. Butterfield's 1st Battalion, with Companies B and C abreast, led the way westward to clear the path so that the 2d Battalion could make a turn toward Suribachi after coming ashore.
Mount Suribachi Isolated5
The 2d Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Chandler W. Johnson, started landing behind 1/28 and 0935 and attempted to move in off the beach in order to deploy facing Suribachi and cover the regiment's left flank. With heavy mortar and artillery fire now falling, companies had difficulty reorganizing as units became separated.
Although it was only 700 yards across this narrowest part of the island, it soon became apparent that the drive to the opposite coast by 1/28 would be costly. The attack developed in such a manner that some elements were held up while others managed to slash through and continue
westward. At 1035 a small group of men from Company B reached the western beach, followed soon after by Marines from Company C.
The island had been crossed, but bypassed enemy continued to resist fiercely. Company A, which had landed in 1/28 reserve and faced south to secure the battalion's left flank, was relieved by 2/28 and joined the rest of the 1st Battalion in mopping up. This battalion had become badly disorganized during its rapid advance and casualties were high. It was clear that another unit would have to be committed on the right of 2/28 facing south in order to launch an attack against Suribachi. Consequently, at 1039 General Rockey ordered Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Shepard's 3/28, which had been division reserve, to revert to RCT 28 and land on order.
Shephard received the order to land his battalion at 1210, and ten minutes later his first boats crossed the line of departure headed for shore. Japanese shelling was furious during this landing, and 3/28 received many casualties and lost some of its equipment. All elements of the battalion where ashore by 1306, but, because of the volume of enemy fire, progress inland was very slow as Shephard struggled to get his units into position for the attack to the south. This assault by the 2d and 3d Battalions was scheduled to jump off at 1545, following a preparation by naval gunfire and air.
Meanwhile, Company C, 5th Tank Battalion, in direct support of RCT 28, was ordered to land. According to the scheme of maneuver, this company, composed of 14 Sherman tanks, two flame tanks, one tankdozer, and one retriever, was to land over Beach RED 1. However,
5TH DIVISION MARINES crawl slowly up the terrace of soft volcanic ash just in from Beach RED 1. Digging in was easy, but forward progress difficult and tiring.
Company A, supporting RCT 27, had landed earlier and reported that conditions were such that it was impracticable to bring tanks in on RED 1. Acting on this information, Lieutenant Colonel William R. Collins, commanding the 5th Tank Battalion, decided to send Company C in over RED 2, but officers on board the naval control vessels refused to permit this action. The tank battalion registered a protest and an argument ensued, but rather than waste time, the tanks went ashore over RED 1 at 1130. They were then obliged to execute a lateral movement northward in order to find suitable routes of egress. Although soft soil, congestion, the steep terrace, and violent enemy fire combined to harass this operation, the company lost only one tank while getting off the beach.6
While two battalions attacked south, the 1st Battalion, with Company E attached, was to occupy recently won positions on the west coast and continue mopping up throughout the regimental zone. At about 1400, tanks of Company C crossed the shell-torn neck of Iwo to assist in these activities. Providentially, the arrived just when Colonel Butterfield's weary Marines were pinned down and receiving heavy casualties from enemy weapons still active in pillboxes and blockhouses bypassed during the morning.
Moving in single file to avoid enemy mine fields and obstructions, the column soon came under antitank fire, and four tanks received direct hits before the opposing gun could be located and silenced.7 With this danger out of the way, armor and infantry cooperated in reducing enemy strong points. At 1600 the surviving Shermans commenced grinding their way toward the fighting fronts of the 2d and 3d Battalions, leaving the 1st Battalion engaged in preparations for the first night on Iwo Jima.
Colonel Shephard's attempts to get his 3d Battalion farther inland and in position to attack alongside the 2d Battalion proved futile. Very heavy enemy fire made movement almost impossible and it wasn't until late afternoon that the battalion was able to get on line in the center of RCT 28's zone of action. By that time it was too late to join the attack, and Shephard's men started digging in for the night with Company I on the left, G on the right, and H in reserve.
Colonel Johnson's 2d Battalion had been in position facing Suribachi since early afternoon, waiting for the southward push, but with the 3d Battalion unable to get on line, the 1545 attack was delayed. At 1645, however, 2/28, supported by tanks from Company C, jumped off without the 3d Battalion. Although 3/28 was now getting into position, a gap developed as the 2d Battalion's right flank moved slowly ahead. By 1730 the assault had advanced only 150 yards toward the mountain and 2/28 had to relinquish even those slight gains when it withdrew to tie in with 3/28 for the night. The tanks, which had advanced about 200 yards, remained out in front to cover consolidation of the infantry's lines, and then they also moved back, assuming positions 300 yards to the rear.
While RCT 28 was attacking over GREEN Beach, the 27th Marines landed on the 1,000-yard strip of beach designated as RED 1 and RED 2, with 2/27 and 1/27 abreast. Major John W. Antonelli's 2d Battalion, on the left, hit the beach with Companies E and F in the assault, and after a hasty reorganization, pushed inland against scattered resistance. The 1st Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John A. Butler, encountered the same light opposition, and Company C, on the left, was able to make good initial progress. But the amtracs carrying Company B landed some 200 to 300 yards to the left of their assigned positions, and confusion and delay in reorganization resulted.
Although individuals and small units of misplaced Company B acted independently to move
RESERVE UNITS reorganize quickly and move inland. LCT(A) stands by to give fire support with its 75mm and machine guns.
to the right into their proper company zone of action, it became clear by 1030 that they could not advance along with Company C. To maintain the forward momentum, the battalion reserve, Company A, was ordered to attack on the right while Company B reorganized.
Both battalions advanced rapidly despite mounting casualties, bypassing many positions along the way. By 1130 Company A was infiltrating across the southern end of the airfield and building up along the western edge. Company C, on the left, had passed the field and held a line that extended about 250 yards in a northwesterly direction from the southwest end of the field. The 2d Battalion was generally abreast, with Company F maintaining contact with 1/27 on the right. Among the casualties at this time was the regimental executive officer, Colonel Louis C. Plain. While in the front lines he was hit in the arm, but continued his inspection and made his report before being evacuated.8
Anxious to push the attack, General Schmidt sent a message to the 5th Division at 1102, ordering it to exploit any weak points. At 1133 General Rockey passed this word along to both assault regiments,9 and the 27th Marines continued to attack. The 1st Battalion, supported by tanks from the 3d Platoon, Company A, turned north against determined enemy opposition, while the 2d Battalion, with the 1st and 2d Platoons of tanks, drove to the west.10 Aided by this armor, the Marines were able to reduce positions that had been stubbornly resisting, but the presence of the Shermans in the front lines attracted heavy Japanese antitank fire, which plagued the infantry. The 1st Battalion made little progress to the north, but the 2d pushed on and reached the cliffs overlooking the west coast at about 1500. The 3d Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel
Donn J. Robertson, landed in RCT reserve at 1130 and followed 2/27 at 200 yards, mopping up bypassed positions.
Lieutenant Colonel Daniel C. Pollock's 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, in division reserve, completed landing operations at 1500 and went into an assembly area about 300 yards inland from RED 1. At 1502, this battalion was attached to the 27th Marines and ordered into defensive positions behind 2/27.11
Company B, 5th Tank Battalion had been held offshore waiting for tanks of Company C to clear RED 1, but at 1300 it began landing. Beset by the same difficulties that had delayed their predecessors, these tanks took a long time getting off the beach, and it was 1600 before they reached the other side of the island to join RCT 27.
At 1744, when General Rockey ordered his regiments to consolidate,12 the O-1 line was still far distant, but the 5th Division was now firmly established ashore. With Mount Suribachi isolated from the rest of the island, the 28th Marines faced south from a line across Iwo's narrow waist, ready to resume the offensive in the morning. The 27th Marines had also advanced to the western shore, and held positions from which it could launch the drive northward up the coast.
The 26th Marines spent most of D-Day waiting to land. At 0955, General Schmidt released Colonel Chester B. Graham's RCT 26 (less the 1st Battalion) to its parent 5th Division, and the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division, newly arrived in the transport area, became corps reserve. This shift gave General Rockey the full strength of his division early on D-Day, and at the same time reconstituted the corps reserve. In anticipation of early release, the 26th Marines commenced boating vehicles and other heavy equipment at 0750, and at 1106 received word to proceed to the line of departure. But because of crowded conditions on the beaches and limited space inland, it was after 1500 when Graham was directed to land his battalions. Crossing over RED 1 a battalion at a time, RCT 26 completed its landing at 1732, and moved into an assembly area along the southern tip of Airfield Number 1, where it took up defensive positions.
26th and 13th Marines Land
Also waiting to land were the four battalions of Colonel James D. Waller's 13th Marines (artillery). Reconnaissance parties had gone ashore as early as 1030 only to find that the previously selected battery positions were still in enemy hands. As those areas were uncovered by the advancing infantry, the division artillery officer ordered his battalions to land. The first elements of Lieutenant Colonel Henry T. Waller's 3d Battalion crossed the beach at 1400, followed by Major Carl W. Hjerpe's 2d Battalion at 1430; the 1st, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John S. Oldfield, at 1656; and the 4th Battalion, under Major James F. Coady, at 1930.
DUKW's of the 5th (Marine) and 471st (Army) Amphibian Truck Companies, which carried these units, had difficulty negotiating the deep sand and were unable to climb the steep incline behind the beaches unless towed by bulldozers or LVT's.
The first battalion ashore (3/13) went into position on the north end of Beach GREEN, and, since it did not have to struggle far inland, was able to fire before any of the others. Within 20 minutes after landing, one section of the 105mm's was registered, and by 1745, all pieces were emplaced and ready to support RCT 28.
The 2d Battalion attempted to land on RED 2, but because of a terrific barrage that hit just as the first DUKW's reached the water's edge, the battalion commander ordered the rest to land on RED 1. As the trucks crawled out of the water, their wheels sank in the soft sand and all progress stopped. But bulldozers of the 5th Engineer Battalion, standing by on the beach, snaked them out of trouble. This operation was carried out repeatedly, with each individual vehicle being hauled clear of the beach to a firing position or a point from which it could advance inland under its own power.
Battery E, the last to make shore, was unable to occupy its position until 0200 the next morning because its DUKW's were under constant pounding by the enemy. One of its 105mm howitzers was destroyed by fire and another slightly damaged during this period.
The 1st Battalion, in direct support of RCT 27, landed its first 75mm pack howitzer at 1645, and encountered the same adverse beach conditions that had made progress so difficult for preceding units. But with the first hour after reaching shore, Battery B was in position ready to fire, and the entire battalion was set up for action by 2245.
There had been a definite reason for assigning this battalion in direct support of the 27th Marines for early operations ashore. The 75mm pack howitzers could be manhandled into firing positions if the DUKW's carrying them became stuck. On the other hand, 105mm howitzers would be dependent upon tractors to extricate them. In spite of difficulties, however, it was not necessary to unload any of the 75's before they reached their positions because tractors were made available on the beach to haul the amphibious trucks clear of the terrace.
The 4th Battalion, in general support, was given last priority in going ashore. Its howitzers arrived at the beach between 1930 and 2030 and had to be hauled across the sand and up the incline in the same laborious manner as the others. Darkness and enemy fire seriously interfered with the work. Three DUKW's swamped in the darkness while waiting to be pulled out of the water, and two pieces as well as valuable communications gear were lost as a
JUST IN FROM BEACH BLUE 1 4th Division Marines watch their tanks (just below horizon) heading north toward BLUE 2.
FLAME THROWERS go into action early as Marines burn their way to Number 1 airfield. Sand-covered bunkers, such as one pictured here, were hard to locate and destroy during preliminary bombardment. (Navy Photo)
result. Eight howitzers had been emplaced by 0400 on D-plus-1, but five vehicles carrying the two remaining 105's and some other equipment did not make it to the position area until 0800 because the road became blocked by crippled LVT's.
While the 5th Division struggled to cut across Iwo in the south, General Cates' 4th Division landed on Beaches YELLOW 1 and 2 and BLUE 1, and began its drive toward O-1. In the 23d Marines' zone of action, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Haas' 1st Battalion landed over YELLOW 1 with Company B on the left, Company A on the right, and C in reserve. The landing and initial advance were accomplished easily, but upon reaching the second terrace the two assault companies came under heavy and accurate fire. Advancing through this, 1/23 gained 250 yards by 0930, but a devastating barrage from Airfield Number 1 blunted the attack.
On Haas' right, Major Robert H. Davidson's 2d Battalion made similar gains with Company E on the left and F on the right, but was slowed by the same deadly fire. With both battalions meeting increasingly stubborn resistance from pillboxes on their front and flanks, it became obvious that tanks were needed ashore.
Upon early requests from both infantry battalion commanders, Company C, from Lieutenant Colonel Richard K. Schmidt's 4th Tank Battalion, was dispatched from the line of departure at 0948, and three LSM's carrying 16 tanks hit the YELLOW Beaches at 1005. The first tank off LSM 216 bogged down less than five feet from the ramp's end, blocking the remaining four tanks on that vessel.14 The other LSM's
discharged their loads successfully, but three of these tanks struck mines less than 150 yards in from the water. Grinding through loose ash and many shellholes, the remaining vehicles commenced their search for 1/23, but progress was slow and it became apparent that front line Marines would not get tank support for some time.
RCT 23, nevertheless, fought forward through the murderous hail of shells and small-arms fire, and though casualties mounted steadily with every yard gained, 1/23 was 500 yards inland by 1200; 200 yards short of Airfield Number 1. The 2d Battalion, having a rougher time, was about 100 yards less advanced and needed help.
At this juncture, Colonel Wensinger decided to bring in his reserve battalion, 3/23, (Major James S. Scales). At 1300, Scales was ordered to land his units along Beach YELLOW 1, move inland about 200 yards, and support the 2d Battalion's attack with 81mm mortars. The battalion met intense mortar and artillery fire, but fortunately very few rounds fell in the water and none of the landing craft suffered hits while approaching the beach. Once ashore, however, the heavy pounding caused casualties and serious disorganization.
Supported by tanks that finally made their way to the front, the left flank of 1/23 reached the airfield at 1405, but intense antitank fire caused the tanks to make a quick withdrawal behind the revetted edge of the field. Thirty minutes later, in order to get 3/23 clear of the beaches, Colonel Wensinger ordered it to pass through 1/23 and continue the attack across the airfield. In spite of casualties and confusion on the beach, the 3d Battalion pressed forward, and, after some difficulty locating the front lines and flanks of adjacent units, passed through the 1st Battalion. By 1700, 3/23 had completed the seizure of the near edges of the airfield and shortly thereafter consolidated for the night.
In the 2d Battalion's zone of action, the soft volcanic ash combined with mines and enemy gunners to prevent the movement of tanks, and the infantry had to go it alone. At 1500, an attempt was made to move Companies E and F laterally northward around the strong point that had been holding them up since noontime. This maneuver, executed in the face of fierce resistance, became confused and disorganized, but by 1730 Company F, on the right, succeeded in reaching Airfield Number 1.
While the 23d Marines battled toward the airfield, General Cates at 1405 ordered ashore the 1st and 2d Battalions of Colonel Walter I. Jordan's 24th Marines, the division reserve. These battalions would be attached to RCT's 25 and 23, respectively, upon landing, but could not be committed without clearance from division. At 1615, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Rothwell's 2d Battalion received orders to land over Beach YELLOW 2 and relieve hard-pressed 2/23. The first wave crossed the line of departure at 1620 and half an hour later the entire battalion was ashore. Reorganizing rapidly after landing, 2/24 quickly moved inland about 700 yards to the front line, relieved 2/23 by 1800, and dug in for the night defense just short of the airfield, holding the line between 3/23 and 1/25.
To solve the problem presented by the high ground of the quarry cliff line that dominated the BLUE Beaches, Colonel John R. Lanigan's 25th Marines landed two battalions abreast over Beach BLUE 1 and the southern edge of BLUE 2. The regiment then attacked on a two-direction front. The 1st Battalion, on the left, struck directly inland, while the 3d Battalion drove to the right (northeast) to clear the remainder of Beach BLUE 2 and envelop the threatening quarry area.
By 1130, Lieutenant Colonel Hollis U. Mustain's 1st Battalion had pressed forward about 600 yards and was abreast of the line of the airfield extended (northeast end of northeast-southeast strip). At this point, Company B, on the right, began to turn for an attack to the north, but Company A, on the left, was unable to make a similar turn because to do so would have opened a dangerous gap between the 1st Battalion and 2/23 (the right flank unit of the 23d Marines). As a result, the 1st Battalion front began to spread, and Colonel Mustain ordered Company C to fill any holes that might
develop. The turning movement was completed at 1330, and Company B occupied positions on the high ground east of the airfield facing generally north.
The 3d Battalion landed in a column of companies with Company I in the lead, K and L following. Company L and units of the battalion headquarters landed about 200 yards out of position to the south and became intermingled with 1/25, making reorganization on the beach difficult. Well-laced enemy fire added to the problem as men sought shelter in large bomb craters along the shore. Casualties, particularly among officers, aggravated the situation: Company K lost eight officers by 1530, Company I lost six by 1700, and Company L lost five by 1630.15
The tanks of Company A, 4th Tank Battalion attached to 3/25 began landing on Beach BLUE 1 at 1020 and immediately became priority targets for mortars, artillery, and antitank weapons. The fire they drew made the situation even more miserable for men of 3/25 as they struggled to organize and move out in the assault. All three of the tank landing ships were hit and damaged16 while unloading, but were able to retract from the beach and withdraw after all tanks had cleared. The tank dozer cut a road through the first terrace inland from Beach BLUE 1, but was completely destroyed when it hit a large horned mine and became the helpless target for three large caliber shells. The rest of the tanks left the beach in column, picking their way slowly through the shell holes until, after proceeding about 100 yards, they ran into a mine field where they halted. From these positions they supported the infantry with their 75's, engaging the enemy in the cliffs to the north and pillboxes behind the beach while engineers attempted to clear the mine field.
Advancing slowly against withering small-arms and machine-gun fire from the front and flanks, and under a relentless mortar barrage, Lieutenant Colonel Justice M. Chambers' 3d Battalion broke contact with 1/25 on its left. Company I was moving northeast along the beach with K and L extending the battalion front inland, but by noon a gap of 100 yards had developed between 3/25 and 1/25. Colonel Lanigan now decided to commit at least a part of his reserve battalion to help seize the high ground to the northeast of the regimental beach.
In view of the gap that existed between his two assault battalions, he directed 2/25, the reserve battalion, to land on Beach BLUE 1 and attack in a column of companies astride the boundary between the 1st and 3d Battalions to take the high ground northwest of the quarry. The 2d Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Lewis C. Hudson, landed at 1250 and moved into an assembly area about 300 yards in from BLUE 1, and Company E prepared to take up a position between 1/25 and 3/25.
At 1400, RCT 25 launched a coordinated attack to the north. The 3d Battalion advanced about 200 yards along the beach and toward the quarry in the first hour and 45 minutes of this attack, but on its left, Company E, 2/25 and Company B, 1/25 gained only a temporary 100 yards, which they had to relinquish after coming under intense small-arms fire. At 1630 Company L received orders to take the ridge line to its front, which included the quarry area. Company K, in reserve, was to favor the left and maintain contact with 2/25. Company I would continue along the beach in the area of the East Boat Basin. The 2d Battalion at this time committed two fresh companies; Company F passed through Company E, and G moved up on the left. The objective was that portion of the ridge line northwest of the troublesome quarry. By 1745, 2/25 had gained the high ground, and L/3/25 reached the top of the quarry at about 1830. Contact between the two battalions, lost during the attack, was reestablished at 1900.
Colonel Lanigan joined his advance CP group (established ashore at 1530) at about 1700 and set about strengthening positions for the night. He requested permission to commit one
BULLDOZER HAULS DUKW up onto beach. This was only one of the yeoman services performed along the shore by the invaluable dozers. DUKW pictured here is equipped with an A-Frame.
company of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines (Major Paul S. Treitel), which completed landing by 1700. With permission granted, Company B was ordered to relieve Company L, 3/25 on position.17
This relief commenced at 1845, but when Lieutenant Colonel Chambers reported that the frontline strength of 3/25 was down to 150 Marines, Colonel Lanigan requested the use of another company to beef up the right flank of his regimental line. In response, division ordered 1/24 to attach another company to 3/25, and at 2030 Company A started moving into the lines. The remaining company of the 1st Battalion took up a defensive position to the rear of 2/25. Relief of Chambers' battalion, executed after dark, and under sporadic enemy fire, was not completed until 2330, when the remnants of 3/25 pulled back and dug in behind 1/24.
The last battalion of RCT 24 (3/24, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander A. Vandegrift, Jr.) had landed by 1900 and moved to positions a short distance inland from Beach BLUE 2. The 4th Division now had all infantry battalions ashore and prepared for a possible enemy counterattack.
Although the D-Day penetration by the division was not as great as planned, by nightfall front lines included the eastern edge of the airfield and were of sufficient depth inland from the BLUE Beaches to guarantee the successful holding of the beachhead.18
The artillery regiment of the 4th Division, Colonel Louis G. DeHaven's 14th Marines, could furnish little assistance during the violent struggle of this first day of assault. By the time the 1st and 2d Battalions were ashore and ready to fire, the division was consolidating for the night defense. The 3d and 4th Battalions, except for reconnaissance parties, did not land until the next day (D-plus-1).
14th Marines Land19
Reconnaissance parties from the artillery battalion went ashore in the early afternoon to select positions for their batteries, but they encountered the same difficulties that faced the artillerymen of the 13th Marines on the beaches to the south: front lines had not advanced beyond the preselected position areas, nor had routes been cleared to permit DUKW's to carry artillery pieces inland from the beaches. Heavy enemy fire caused casualties among the men of these reconnaissance teams, one of the first being Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. McFarlane, commanding officer of the 3d Battalion.20
At 1405 the division ordered Colonel DeHaven to land his two direct support artillery battalions regardless of beach conditions: 1/14, Major John B. Edgar, Jr., in direct support of RCT 25; and 2/14, Major Clifford B. Drake, in direct support of RCT 23. When DUKW's of the 4th Amphibian Truck Company, carrying the 75mm Pack Howitzers of the 1st Battalion, hit Beach BLUE 1 they bogged down immediately and even heavy tractors strained to pull them up the steep beach.21 However, by unloading the vehicles where they spotted and manhandling the weapons into position, the 1st Battalion was able to get 11 howitzers set up by 1715.22
In the meantime, communication had been established with the forward observers and registration firing was underway. The difficulty in locating features on maps that could be identified on the ground made selection of registration points difficult, but by 1745 all batteries were ready to execute fire missions in support of the 25th Marines.
The 2d Battalion, landing on YELLOW 1 with the heavier 105mm howitzers, could not solve its problems by manhandling weapons as 1/14 had done. Each howitzer had to ride to its position in the DUKW that brought it ashore. It was a long, grueling struggle to coax, push, and pull the vehicles out of the water and up over the terrace dunes. Only one amphibian truck at a time could land because of beach and surf conditions that combined to stall and almost halt forward movement of these usually versatile and dependable vehicles. Amazingly, none of them was hit, but the crews suffered casualties from near misses. After hours of unceasing efforts, this battalion had moved its 12 pieces into position on the first terrace at the right flank of Beach YELLOW 1 and was ready to fire.
The 3d Battalion, now commanded by Major Harvey A. Freehan, received orders to launch its DUKW's at 1505, and the first vehicle left the ramp at 1510. But failure of some of the DUKW's to start held up the operation, and it was 1630 before all trucks were in the water. By that time the situation ashore was such that
the regimental commander saw that it would be impracticable to land his 3d and 4th Battalions, so he ordered 3/14 to reembark on board the LST.23
After ordering his 3d Battalion to land, Colonel DeHaven had ordered his CP on board the Hendry (APA 118) to move ashore. Upon receiving word that no more artillery could be landed that day, the command group, under Lieutenant Colonel Randall M. Victory, held up at LST 763 and operated from there until the following day.24 Lieutenant Colonel Carl A. Youngdale's 4th Battalion spent the entire day on board its LST, and although not engaged with the enemy, suffered six casualties, including one man killed from enemy shells falling in the transport area.
D-Day at Iwo Jima had been an uneven struggle with advantage of terrain and troop disposition heavily in favor of the defenders. While the Marines battled to bring their mechanized equipment ashore across the difficult beach, Japanese gunners poured death and destruction on them from the high ground on both flanks. To enlarge their beachhead and close with this hard-fighting enemy, the Marines were forced to advance over open ground while subjected to a terrific pounding from positions that were difficult to locate and so well protected that naval gunfire and air support units could do little to silence them.
In the face of these tremendous obstacles, D-Day advances fell far short of the O-1 objective, but by the end of the day, six infantry regiments, an equal number of artillery battalions, and the two tank battalions had landed and were disposed for the defense of the narrow beachhead against the expected night counterattack.25 Units were tied in with physical contact all along the corps' front except for two small gaps. One of these weak points was between RCT 23 and RCT 25 at the end of the northeast-southwest runway of the airfield where a 75-yard break existed. The other was created by a small pocket of Japanese entrenched on the edge of the airfield, where a turning circle bulged out into the 23d Marines' zone. Both these areas were well covered by fire and observation.26 (See Map 4.)
As it turned out, the Japanese did not launch any large-scale counterattacks, and infantry action was limited to attempts at infiltration. At 2315, the 1st Battalion, 28th Marines repulsed an attempted barge landing on the west coast, killing 25 of the enemy.27 And RCT 27 reported a counterattack developing 500 yards in front of 1/27 at 0345. The 1st and 2d Battalions of the 13th Marines took this enemy force under fire and dispersed it.28
Although enemy infantry remained strangely quiet this first night on Iwo, Japanese mortars and artillery pounded Marine lines relentlessly all along the front. Combat teams of the 4th Division in particular, took serious losses. Hardest hit was the 1st Battalion, 23d. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Haas, and his operations officer were killed by artillery rounds falling in one of two large shellholes on the beach that served as the CP. The personnel officer received serious wounds and other staff members lesser injuries from this same blast. In an identical shell crater nearby, the executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel
Map 4: VAC Front Lines D-Day
19 February 1945
28th Marines, Only, D Plus 1, 2, 3
Louis B. Blissard, and the intelligence officer plus several other Marines suffered no effects from this shelling. Lieutenant Colonel Blissard assumed command of 1/23 upon the death of Haas.29 In the RCT 25 zone of action, enemy fire harassed Marine lines continuously throughout the night. The 3/25 supply dump on the beach was destroyed by direct hits of enemy rockets prior to dawn.30
All infantry regiments had established CP's ashore during the day, but division and higher commanders remained on board ship. Brigadier General Leo D. Hermle, assistant commander of the 5th Division, was the only general officer ashore on D-Day. He landed at 1430, and established an advance CP just east of the southern end of the airfield, but advised General Rockey that heavy fire plus communication difficulties made it unwise for him to land.31
The assault infantry battalions of the Landing Force received assistance throughout D-Day from all the supporting arms available to the Amphibious Support Force. Carrier pilots of TF 58 and the escort carriers of TF 52 flew missions all day as airborne observers and spotters maintained constant vigilance over the target. Including pre-H-Hour strikes, 606 support aircraft flew 26 missions on 19 February and dropped 274,500 pounds of bombs. These planes also fired 2,254 rockets into the island defenses and dropped over a hundred napalm bombs. Air and naval gunfire liaison teams remained in communication with both air and sea supporting units through the hectic hours that followed the beach assault. Naval rifles from 5- to 16-inch caliber pounded enemy positions in response to Marine requests. Gunfire support vessels engaged enemy artillery that covered landing areas from high ground to the north, and concentrated on concealed Japanese mortars that shelled landing areas with deadly effect.32
Throughout this first day, the situation on the beaches prevented landing of any but the highest priority "hot cargo." This consisted of ammunition, rations, water, and signal equipment brought to the beach in LCVP's and LCM's. Shore party teams, working under extremely adverse conditions without sufficient trucks and other heavy equipment, could do little more than stack the supplies on the beach above the high water mark. LVT's and weasels made trips from the beach dumps inland carrying these supplies to the troops and returned bearing wounded men. The busy amtracs also made nonstop trips from LST's, ferrying critically needed items direct to Marines on the front lines.
Most of the transports and other vessels of the task force retired from the island at nightfall, but some command ships, preloaded LST's, and hospital LST's remained behind. Emergency items, especially 81mm mortar ammunition, were brought in during the night, but actually very little unloading was accomplished and many of the wounded spent this night on the beach because they could not be evacuated. Some progress was made cutting exits through the terrace and clearing mines, but enemy fire and the shortage of equipment limited this activity.33
Casualties on D-Day were high, but not up to five percent of the entire landing force as had been expected.34 Reports submitted at the close of operations the first day were exaggerated, particularly in the number of men reported
missing in action. These figures were reduced the following day, when Marines who had been separated from their units on the beaches and fought with other organizations during the day returned to their own commands. Corps gave only a very incomplete estimate of losses in its dispatch summary for D-Day, but combat efficiency, which is closely related to numerical strength, was rated very good to excellent for the landing force as a whole.35 Actually casualty figures for this day were later determined to be:
Killed in action 501 Wounded in action 1755 Died of wounds 47 Missing in action 18 Combat fatigue 99 Total 362420
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (2) * Next Chapter (4)
1. Unless otherwise cited, material in this section is based on the following: TF 51 Rpt; TF 53 OpRpt; TF 56 Air Rpt; TF 56 Preliminary NGF Rpt; 5thMarDiv SAR; 4thMarDiv OpRpt.
2. Only 15 of the 45 7th AAF heavy bombers were able to make their scheduled pre-H-Hour strike, the remainder having been diverted or delayed because of bad weather between Iwo and the Marianas. TF 56 Air Rpt, 2.
3. These were the same planes led by LtCol Millington, that had executed the napalm and rocket strike against the beaches earlier. This low-level attack had been worked out by Millington with Col Vernon E. Mesgee, Commander of the Landing Force Air Support Control Unit and Deputy Commander, Aircraft, Landing Force. Sherrod, History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II (Washington, 1952), 347, hereinafter cited as Sherrod.
4. These are abbreviated designations and will be used throughout this monograph. The battalion numeral precedes that of the regiment, i.e., 2d Battalion, 28th Marines is written 2/28.
5. Unless otherwise cited, material in this section is based on the following: 26th Marines, Action Report on Iwo Jima Operation, 20Apr45, hereinafter cited as 26th Mar SAR; 27th Marines, Action Report on Iwo Jima Operation, 17Apr45, hereinafter cited as 27th Mar SAR; 13th Marines, Action Report, Iwo Jima Campaign, 17Apr45, hereinafter cited as 13th Mar SAR; 5th Tank Battalion, Action Report, Iwo Jima 24Apr45, hereinafter cited as 5th TkBn SAR; 5th Mardiv SAR; 28th Mar SAR; 5th MarDiv War Diary, Feb45.
6. Other supporting arms units were not so fortunate. The regimental rocket section of RCT 28 landed during D-Day morning. Three of the four truck-mounted rocket launchers were smashed by enemy artillery fire immediately after landing, but the remaining launcher fired one ripple into the near slopes of Mount Suribachi that caused a terrific explosion. This was the only bright note on D-Day; it brought loud cheers from all Marines in the area. Ltr LtCol O.F. Peatross to CMC, 23Dec52.
7. Two of these tanks received penetrations through the turret, wounding three crewmen in each, and a third was put out of action when a shell damaged, but did not go through the turret. 5th TkBn SAR, Encl C, 1.
8. H.M. Conner, The Spearhead: The World War II History of the 5th Marine Division (Washington, 1950), 54.
9. Disp VAC to 5th MarDiv, 1102, 19Feb45; Messages, 5th MarDiv to RCT's 27 and 28, Nos. 25 and 26, 19Feb45.
10. These tanks from Company A, 5th TkBn, were the first ashore at Iwo. Following closely behind the assault battalions, they landed on the RED Beaches at 0925, and although enemy shelling did not interfere with their movement, the sand did. Four tanks broke tracks and one was drowned out before they found an exit from the beach and headed for Airfield No. 1 to support RCT 27.
11. Although ordered to back up 2/27, elements of 1/26 actually held front line positions on the extreme left of 2/27 and assisted in closing a gap between RCT's 27 and 28 during the night of 19/20Feb45. Ltr LtCol D.C. Pollock to CMC, 8Dec52, hereinafter cited as Pollock.
12. 5th MarDiv D-3 Journal, Iwo Jima.
13. Unless otherwise cited, material in this section is based on the following: 23d Marines, Operation Report Iwo Jima, 9Apr45, hereinafter cited as 23d Mar OpRpt; 24th Marines, Final Report on Iwo Jima Operations, 20Apr45, hereinafter cited as 24th Mar OpRpt; 25th Marines, Operation Report, Iwo Jima, 15Apr45, hereinafter cited as 25th Mar OpRpt; 4th Tank Battalion, Operation Report, Iwo Jima, 18Apr45, hereinafter cited as 4th TkBn OpRpt.
14. LSM 216 continued to have a hard time getting rid of its valuable cargo. After the first abortive attempt, it retracted and beached again about 200 yards to the south, where a foot reconnaissance showed that tanks would also bog down. The LSM, in the meantime, had broached on the beach and it took 30 minutes for it to retract the second time. At 1245, it beached on YELLOW 1, but the sand was too soft, so it withdrew for the third time, and at 1300 made a final try and was successful in discharging its vehicles.
15. Ltr Col J.M. Chambers to CMC, 5Nov52.
16. Marines had high praise for the crews of the LSM's that landed tanks on Beaches YELLOW and BLUE so soon after H-Hour. The division operation report takes special note of the ". . . . high degree of courage and tenacity shown by these ships in beaching and accomplishing the landing of this vital equipment in the face of the heaviest enemy mortar and artillery fire yet seen in any operation." 4th MarDiv OpRpt, Sec III, 8-9.
17. 1/24 landed amid much confusion on beaches YELLOW 2 and BLUE 1. Upon receiving word to send one company to reinforce 3/25, the 1/24 commander ordered that Company A be dispatched. But, because of the confusion on the beaches, A/1/24 could not be located immediately and B/1/24 was ordered to report to 3/25. Company B proceeded to relieve L/3/25 in position atop the quarry, positions very lightly held by a handful of Marines. Company A, 1/24, reported to RCT 25 later and joined 3/25 prior to 2100. Ltr from LtCol H.C. Parks to CMC, 2Dec52; 24th Mar OpRpt, 120.
18. 4th MarDiv OpRpt, Sec III, 11, Sec IV, 3.
19. Unless otherwise cited, material in this section is based on the following: 14th Marines, Operation Report, Iwo Jima, 13Apr45, Appendices 1-8. Hereinafter cited as 14th Mar OpRpt.
20. Shortly after this the fire on the beach became so heavy that when the regimental commander ordered the 3d Battalion's reconnaissance party back aboard the control ship, the men were unable to get off the beach to comply. 14th Mar OpRpt, Appendix 3, 9.
21. In almost all cases, beaches were too steep and soft for DUKW's and they had to be unloaded just clear of the surf. When tractors were immediately available, the amphibian trucks could be towed out of the water. But if there were as much as five minutes delay, they settled in the sand, filled with water, and nothing could pull them out. In one case during D-Day, two tractors and an LVT were hooked to a foundered DUKW, but only succeeded in pulling off the towing shackles. 14th Mar OpRpt, Appendix 6, 3.
22. One howitzer was lost when the DUKW in which it was loaded sank immediately after being discharged from the LST. Ibid., 2.
23. During this reembarkation, one howitzer and DUKW were lost when the truck's motor failed as it started back up the ramp. 14th Mar OpRpt, Appendix 3, 9.
24. Colonel DeHaven, as division artillery officer, operated from the 4th Division Command Post on board the Bayfield (APA 33). The command group of the 14th Marines, under LtCol R.M. Victory (the executive officer), was embarked in the Hendry. Ltr LtCol R.M. Victory to CMC, 11Dec52.
25. The belief was generally held that the Japanese would attack the beachhead on this, its most vulnerable night. After noting that few enemy dead had been seen during the day, and that the enemy was known to have a large reserve force of infantry and tanks available for counterattack, the Corps Intelligence Officer listed this as the most probable course of action for Kuribayashi to take. VAC G-2 Periodic Report No. 1, 19Feb45, hereinafter cited as G-2 Periodic Rpt.
26. 25th Mar OpRpt, Appendix VI, 11; 5th MarDiv SAR Annex F; 5th Shore Party Regiment Action Report, Iwo Jima, Sec III, 12, hereinafter cited as 5th Shore Party Rpt.
27. TF 56 G-3 Journal 1800, 19Feb45 to 1800, 20Feb45.
28. Ibid.; 13th Mar SAR, Sec II, 11.
29. 23d Mar OpRpt, Annex F, 4; Ltr LtCol L.B. Blissard to CMC, 13Jan53.
30. 25th Mar OpRpt, Appendix VIII, Sec IV, 3.
31. 5th MarDiv SAR, Sec VII, 15.
32. TF 54 OpRpt, 13; VAC Air Officer, Special Action Report, Iwo Jima Campaign, 30Apr45, Encl A, 1, hereinafter cited as VAC Air Rpt.
33. The critical shortage of ammunition, especially 81mm mortar, remained serious throughout D-Day. Shells hand-carried ashore for these mortars lasted about one hour after the weapons opened fire. No other supply of 81mm rounds existed on the island, and mortar crews spent much of D-Day scouring the landing beaches in search of ammunition for their weapons. With the 81mm's out of action, assault battalions lost the services of their only high-trajectory supporting arm during most of the violent D-Day action. Ltr LtCol F.J. Mee to CMC, 15Dec52, hereinafter cited as Mee.
34. VAC MedRpt, 2. Five percent of the entire force would have been 3,050. However, the really significant figure is the percent of casualties among the 30,000 troops actually landed on D-Day. This figure is eight percent, of which 20 percent were killed in action.
35. VAC Dispatch Summary D-Day, Iwo Jima.
36. These casualty figures were taken from statistics prepared by the Casualty Section, Headquarters Marine Corps. For a summary of casualties, see Appendix III.