At 0700, 25 February, the 3d Division assumed the task of clearing the critical central portion of the Motoyama Plateau. Its route of advance lay across the second airfield and through Motoyama Village to the unfinished Airfield Number 3. On either side of this tableland the ground fell away to the sea in a jumbled series of draws and ridges that obstructed movement and limited observation. By pushing forward in the middle to gain control of the relatively flat ground along the backbone of the island, the Marines would gain three advantages: first, they could drive laterally down to the coast, attacking along the ridges; second, they could use the routes in the interior for supply and movement of units working the flanks; and third, this would deny the enemy the final positions from which he could place observed fire on the beaches.
Through the Center (D-Plus 6--D-Plus 19)
While the topography of this center strip made it the best possible route to the north, the terrain was by no means easy. On the plateau the sandy soil of the south gave way to volcanic sandstone that lay in tumbled crevices and jagged outcroppings. Someone has said, aptly, that it might well be used as an illustration for Dante's Inferno. Superimposed on this forbidding ground were Japanese defenses of all kinds, and every elevation assumed tactical importance and was bitterly defended. The approaches were protected by mine fields and tank ditches well covered by fire, and mortar and artillery concentrations could be laid on either the forward or reverse slopes.
Despite the advantages of a push through center in the 3d Division's zone, to be followed by thrusts to the flanks to clear the remainder of the island, there were other factors to be considered. One was the problem of supply. To ensure an uninterrupted flow of ammunition from ship to shore, it was considered imperative that the western beaches be opened to receive small craft as soon as possible. The landing force could not afford to depend solely on the cluttered eastern beaches. If the wind shifted strongly to the east, surf conditions would make unloading on that side of the island extremely hazardous. Moreover, General Schmidt had been directed to clear the beaches and airfields and push unloading in order that ships could be made available for the Okinawa Campaign. But before the western shore could be used, the Japanese would have to be cleared from the high ground to the north that dominated those beaches.
Secondly, on either side of the 3d's zone of action, where the plateau jutted into the paths of the other two divisions, high ground menaced General Erskine's flanks.1 Finally, and perhaps most important, was the fact that
MAJOR GENERAL ERSKINE commanded the 3d Marine Division at Iwo Jima
should any one division make any considerable advance beyond the others, there would be the additional task of providing troops for flank support, and the advanced division would find itself being fired upon from every direction.2 For these reasons, the corps continued its struggle to the northeast, attempting simultaneous advances all along the front.3
At 0930 on D-plus-6, when RCT 9 passed through the 21st Marines to continued the attack, the line of departure skirted the southwest edge of the airfield, bulged across to the high ground immediately north of the center of the field, then picked up again along the southern edge, where the 9th Marines tied in with the 4th Division. The 2d Battalion on the left was confronted by strong positions in the line of bluffs that stretched north from the western end of the airfield and the high ground just north of the east-west runway. On the right, 1/9 faced a low but strategically located hill that later came to be called Hill PETER. (See Map V.)
Hills PETER and 199 OBOE (D-Plus 6--D-Plus 8)4
The preparation for the attack was much the same as on the day before. One battleship and two cruisers fired deliberate main-battery destructive missions from K-minus 50 to K-minus 30. Corps artillery fired a 1,200-round preparation with half of the rounds fired to the front of the 3d Division, and a preattack air strike, using a large number of 500-lb. bombs, was delivered just prior to the jump-off.5 The corps' main effort was to be in the center.
Enemy fire that swept both runways of the airfield inflicted brutal casualties as the battalions inched ahead. Making its main effort on the left, RCT 9 attached the 26 available tanks from Companies A and B, 3d Tank Battalion to Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Cushman's 2d Battalion. These vehicles struck out across the fire-swept strip 200 yards ahead of the infantry in an effort to take out the heavy weapons that dominated the field.6 Even with this support, gains were slow and costly for both vehicles and men.
Lieutenant Colonel Carey A. Randall's 1st Battalion forced one platoon to the base of Hill
PETER, but the unit was so depleted by then that it could not hold this advanced position. After five hours of fighting, the assault had progressed a scant 100 yards; slightly more on the left.
At 1430, the reserve battalion (3/9) was ordered to pass through the 2d Battalion's right and attack to the north until it had bypassed the center of resistance that was holding up 2/9. The battalion would then extend to the left to contact RCT 26, which was some 300 yards ahead at the division boundary. Cushman's battalion was then to attack and eliminate the pocket.
The passage of lines was made at 1510, Company I on the left, K on the right, and Company L prepared to follow the left company to effect contact with the 26th Marines on order. A storm of small arms and machine-gun fire from the front and flank pinned down the left unit almost immediately, but the rest of the battalion line advanced slowly by fire and movement. Both companies tortuously worked machine guns to forward positions to deliver covering fire, and Company K employed 60mm mortars against close-in targets. With Japanese mortar and artillery fire inflicting heavy losses among the slow moving Marines, the companies were directed to gain protection of the high ground to the front as quickly as possible. The left platoon withdrew from its sector, where pillboxes held it up, and maneuvered to the right past the strong point.
FIRE DIRECTION CENTER of 1st Provisional Field Artillery Group. Here fire requests and adjustment corrections are converted into fire commands for the 155mm howitzers in support of the corps.
As the troops crept ahead, the enemy adjusted his artillery to keep pace. The two assault company commanders were killed within a few minutes of one another, and other key personnel, officer and enlisted, fell in rapid succession. Both units faltered and began to draw back from the continuous blast of withering fire, losing contact with adjacent units in the process. Lieutenant Colonel Harold C. Boehm, commanding 3/9, acted quickly to regain control and reestablish contact with friendly elements. He sent his operations officer to take over Company K, which had suffered five officer casualties and was now seriously disorganized. Then he ordered this company to tie in with the 1st Battalion on the right and committed his reserve, Company L, to effect a union with 2/9 on the left. Company I then became the center unit between L and K. By 1915 the situation was stabilized with contact established between
MARINES WARM COFFEE at sulfur pit. The pipe on which canteen cup rests was used in Japanese bath. Water often came to the surface at 160° to 170° F.
all units along the regimental front. From left to right were 2/9, 3/9, and 1/9. In addition to infantry losses, nine tanks were knocked out while supporting the 9th Marines on 25 February.
Since only one battery of the 12th Marines was ashore early on D-plus-6, artillery support for RCT 9 was furnished by the 1st Battalion, 14th Marines, in direct support, and the 4th Battalion, 13th Marines, in a reinforcing role. More 3d Division artillery landed during the day, however, and by 1700, Batteries B, D, and E were ready to fire. These units were combined into a provisional battalion under the control of 1/12, and relieved 1/14 in support of the 9th Marines.
The 21st Marines also assisted RCT 9 on its first day in the attack, firing heavy machine guns, 37mm guns, and light mortars over the heads and to the flanks of Colonel Kenyon's men until masked. In addition, the 81mm mortars of RCT 21 were attached to the 9th, but reverted to parent control at 1730.
Fighting had been extremely bitter and costly. But by the end of the day, RCT 9 was established on the rising ground north of the airfield, except for the far right of the zone where the northeast strip cut through and beyond the lines. The 3d Battalion, 21st Marines, attached to RCT 9 at 1345, manned the regimental reserve line between the airfields during the night of 25/26 February.
By D-plus-7, it was clear that the corps was ramming against the enemy's main battle positions that extended northwest to southeast across the island. in the 3d Division zone this belt included the second airfield and the rising ground to the north. Hill PETER and a second hill, 199 OBOE, 225 yards to the northwest were key terrain features in this area. (See Map V.)
General Schmidt's operation order again directed that General Erskine's division make the main effort with corps artillery delivering 50 percent of its fire in support of this drive, the other 50 percent to be divided equally between the 4th and 5th Divisions.7
At 0800, the 9th Marines resumed the attack with the 1st and 2d Battalions abreast, 3/9 and 3/21 (attached) in reserve. Tanks operated with both assault battalions, firing into caves and destroying pillboxes and bunkers. Company C (tanks), assisting 1/9 in the drive against Hill PETER, worked a flame tank around to the reverse side and burned out a tunnel from which enemy troops were emerging. All day long, the 9th battled to gain the high ground that blocked its way, but by nightfall there had been no significant gains.
On 27 February (D-plus-8), Colonel Kenyon's regiment continued its bitter struggle to break through to the northeast. During the morning, the 2d Battalion made slight gains in the direction of Hill 199 OBOE, and 1/9 on the right reached the top of Hill PETER. However, well-concealed enemy positions on the reverse slope and fire from the vicinity of 199 OBOE prevented any sizable advance in the 1st's zone of action.
Then, in the afternoon, the break came. At 1250, following a 10-minute preparation by division and corps artillery, both battalions struck out in a coordinated attack. The 1st Battalion overran Hill PETER and continued on down the reverse slope and up to the crest of 199 OBOE. On the left, the 2d drove ahead to bring its lines abreast of 1/9 for the first time since the attack started.
After three days of seemingly endless uphill battering against these Japanese main-line positions, Airfield Number 2 and the commanding terrain to the north had finally fallen to the exhausted Marines. But although the two key hills were overrun on D-plus-8, many bypassed enemy troops remained in caves to harass the rear. Mopping up in this area continued for the next two days. This had been RCT 9's harsh introduction to the fighting on Iwo. In summarizing the period, Colonel Kenyon wrote:
Features of this action were the skill, determination, and aggressiveness displayed by our own troops; the unprecedented tenacity and defensive resourcefulness displayed by the enemy . . . the decisive aid rendered infantry troops by tanks; and finally, the excellent coordination of all supporting units with infantry maneuvers.8
3D DIVISION MARINES man hastily prepared positions amid the ruins of Motoyama Village. Sulfur mine and refinery can be seen dimly in background. As the center and left of the corps line approached the O-2 objective line, V Corps assigned a new line (O-3) in its operation order for 28 February. Starting on the west coast about 1,000 yards south of Kitano Point, this line led eastward, then to the southeast, roughly following the edge of the northern plateau, to join O-1 at Tachiiwa Point. In the 3d Division's zone of action, seizure of this line would place Marines on high ground overlooking the water. It was toward this goal that the division moved out on D-plus-9.
Motoyama Village and Beyond
At dawn, the 21st Marines started its 1st and 3d Battalions forward to pass through RCT 9. Before these units could reach the line of departure, they became involved in fire fights with enemy snipers and machine gunners, but by 0815 they were ready to pass through.
The attack was preceded by a 30-minute preparation fired by the 12th Marines, reinforced by a majority of the corps 155mm's.
This bombardment was followed at K-Hour by a barrage that lifted 100 yards every seven minutes for a total of 700 yards. On the left, the 1st Battalion made only about 150 yards before it was stopped by a heavy concentration of infantry weapons emplaced in the rising ground to its immediate front. On the right of the division's zone, however, where the high ground had already been gained, the 3d Battalion advanced rapidly and moved forward 400 yards by 0930. During this surge by 3/21, elements of Company L became intermingled with a unit of the 4th Division operating on the division boundary. This slowed the attack, and by 1130 units were bogged down all along the 3d Division front.
At 1300, the artillery fired another 5-minute preparation and troops jumped off again behind a lifting barrage. In this afternoon drive, as in the morning, the battalion on the right was able to move ahead at a better pace than the unit on the left. The 3d Battalion swept through the cluster of rocks and pillboxes that had once been Motoyama Village and seized the high ground overlooking Airfield Number 3. This left the 1st Battalion about 400 yards to the rear, still held up by the strong point on the left of the regimental zone of action.
Faced with a wide gap between the two assault battalions, Colonel Withers ordered 2/21 to attack through this hole, bypass the enemy in front of the 1st Battalion, and gain contact with 3/21 near the village. K-Hour was scheduled for 1530, with the artillery firing a preparation and rolling barrage ahead of the advance. Because of the distance (600 yards) and constant enemy fire, 2/21 was late crossing the line of departure and did not derive maximum benefit from the barrage. Only slight progress was made, but at 1700 Company E made contact with the right battalion and Company G tied in with 1/21 to complete a winding but continuous line across the division front. (See Map VI.)
By nightfall, it appeared that the 3d Division had finally burned and blasted its way through the center of the enemy's main line. On either side, however, the 4th and 5th Divisions had been held up in costly struggles against Hills 382 and 362A,10 respectively, two of the most powerful of the Japanese cross-island defenses. The corps order for 1 March (D-plus-10) reflected this change in the situation. The preponderance of supporting fires no longer went to the 3d Division; instead, the corps artillery was now to divide its fires equally among the three divisions.
At 0830, the 3d Division resumed its offensive with the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 21st Marines in the assault. The 1st Battalion remained behind on the left flank to clean out the
EVAPORATION VATS AND FURNACES located near the sulfur mines show destruction wrought on surface installations during the fierce fighting. This area is just west of Motoyama Village.
enemy pocket that the regiment had side-stepped the day before. As 2/21 and 3/21 moved out to the northeast, the gap between the 1st and 2d Battalions reopened. The 3d Battalion, 9th Marines (attached to RCT 21) was now ordered to attack through this hole across 1/21's front to reach the division boundary and protect the regimental left flank. Attacking at a right angle to the boundary, 3/9 met only light resistance and accomplished its mission by 1500. Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion eliminated the enemy pocket and moved upon the left flank abreast of 3/9 and parallel to the western limit of the 3d Division zone.
As RCT 21 advanced to the northeast and drew away from the 5th Division, the necessity of protecting its open left flank seriously overextended the front. To correct this situation two actions were taken. At 1500, corps modified the boundary between the 3d and 5th Divisions so that responsibility for the position held by 1/21 passed to the 5th Division. This shortened the 3d Division front and released 1/21 for other tasks. Then at 1545, the 3d Division split its zone of action down the middle, and ordered an advance with two regiments abreast, RCT 21 on the left, RCT 9 on the right. (See Map VII.)
For this late afternoon attack, 3/9 and the tank battalion remained attached to RCT 21, but 3/21 was attached to the 9th Marines. This made unnecessary a time-consuming shift of
MAIL FROM HOME played an important part in sustaining morale on Iwo. The first deliver was made by LST on 24 February. On 1 March an air drop was made. Beginning the next day, all was flown to the island. (Navy Photo)
units already positioned along the front. The 2d Battalion, 9th Marines was held in division reserve.
At 1640, the 12th Marines, with all battalions now in action and reinforced by 155's from corps artillery, opened up with a pulverizing preparation.11 Five minutes later, the two regiments jumped off abreast, preceded by a rolling barrage. In the zone of RCT 9, the 1st Battalion passed through 3/21, but riddling fire from the front and right flank stopped it after little or no gain. The 3d Battalion, 21st Marines took up a reserve position in the vicinity of Motoyama Village after its relief.
The 21st Marines, with 2/21 on the right and 3/9 on the left, also ran into fierce resistance and made no progress. Meanwhile, however, the 3d Battalion, 26th Marines, completed its relief of 1/21 on the 3d Division's left boundary and that unit reverted to RCT 21 reserve.
Although the afternoon attack (with two regiments abreast) proved futile, progress by RCT 21 during the morning had carried the lines 500 yards forward to deepen the breach in the enemy's heavily fortified defensive line. When the division dug in for the night on 1 March (D-plus-10) with two regiments abreast (the 3d Marines was still afloat in Expeditionary Troops Reserve), it faced northeast from positions approximately 600 yards east of Motoyama, running north across the western portion of Airfield Number 3. (See Map VII.)
On 2 March (D-plus-11) the 9th Marines confronted an enemy strong point of undetermined size, but of obvious strength. In the 21st Marine zone of action, however, it appeared that, while there was resistance all along the front, the main obstacle to an advance was the enemy holding high ground just to the north of the division boundary. The principal terrain feature in that area was Hill 362B and the finger-like plateau that extended 400 yards southwest from the hill to the boundary. Since RCT 21 could not advance until this flanking position was in friendly hands, General Erskine received permission from corps to attack north across the boundary to seize Hill 362B. He then shifted the line of demarcation between his regiments to run north from the line of departure, diagonally across the front, to the division boundary. This gave his left regiment a north axis of advance while the 9th Marines was to continue to the northeast in a zone that fanned out on the left beyond RCT 21 to include the entire 3d Division sector. The division main effort was to be made on the left.
K-Hour (0800) was preceded by a 30-minute preparation by the 12th Marines, with 155's and direct support destroyers adding their weight against deep targets. But 155mm fire was limited because the 5th Division was making the corps' main effort and received the preponderance of corps artillery support.
The 2d Battalion, 9th Marines moved up from reserve to jump off on the left, abreast of the 1st Battalion. At first, both units made small gains, but soon enemy antitank and machine-gun fire checked the advance. Supporting armor engaged bunkers and dug-in enemy tanks, and friendly artillery fire was drawn in close to the lines. But Japanese machine guns, secure and delay in their emplacements even closer to the front, continued to smother the assault. A second preparation at 1530 and another coordinated attack failed.
The 21st Marines moved out at 0800 with 1/21 and 3/9 in the assault. The 1st Battalion had moved up from the rear to a position on the right of 2/21, and was to attack in column of companies across the unit's front to clear the rest of Airfield Number 3. The 2d Battalion was to support the attack by fire from its present positions until masked, and then revert to regimental reserve. After an advance of about 150 yards, the 1st Battalion was held up at the southern edge of the airfield where it remained for the rest of the day.
The approaches to the plateau and Hill 362B led over flat ground that offered little cover to 3/9 as it moved out in a column of companies. Company L, in the lead, received fire from several large caliber flat-trajectory weapons located in the vicinity of Hill 362B, and it was decided to use tanks to knock them out before resuming the advance. From the battalion commander's observation post at the line of departure, an area was spotted just forward of the lines where tanks could find hull-defilade firing positions. A platoon from Company B (tanks) moved to this location, and, with the commander of Company L directing fire by radio, engaged the enemy guns.
Under cover of this tank fire, the infantry resumed its advance. When it became evident that one company so greatly under strength could not cover the zone of action, Company K was thrown in on the right and Company I moved to cover the left. At 1100, the forward elements reached the rising ground in front of the hill where they received greatly intensified small-arms fire. Tanks continued to support the attack, firing over the heads of the Marines at targets on 362B.
The battalion had pulled away from units on the right and left, but was ordered to forge ahead without regard for its flanks. The battalion 81mm mortars and company 60's were used effectively as 3/9 inched ahead up onto the ridge that led to the final objective.
At 1400, 2/21 was ordered to attack and close the gap between the two assault battalions by seizing the high ground beyond the eastern end of the airfield. The battalion commenced its drive at 1600 under almost continuous enemy fire, but by 1700 the lead platoon was slightly ahead of 3/9, which was now near the foot of Hill 362B. At 1730, the commanding officer of 2/21, Lieutenant Colonel Lowell E. English, was wounded, and the executive officer, Major George A. Percy, assumed command. Soon after this, Company G, which led the battalion, was ordered to withdraw to tenable positions and tie in with the unit on the left. The other two companies, E and F, echeloned to the right rear to link up with 1/21. However, the fire-swept clearing of the airfield could not be occupied, so physical contact was not established in the center of the regimental zone.
The division main effort on D-plus-11 had been moderately successful, with 3/9 making progress against Hill 362B and 2/21 advancing northeast along the left boundary. The 9th Marines, however, made little progress against the enemy stronghold in the right of the zone.
A captured Japanese map bore out the belief that RCT 9 was up against a powerful well-organized enemy defensive area. Intelligence officers could not determine from this sketch whether or not the line extended completely across the division front, but reports of strong emplacements ahead of the 21st Marines indicated that it might. However, plans for the next phase of attack were postulated on the hope that a soft spot might be found somewhere between the resistance holding up RCT 9 and the positions in the vicinity of Hill 362B.
The corps order for 3 March directed the 5th Division to relieve 3d Division units at Hill 362B by 1000, and General Erskine shifted the boundary line between regiments so that the division zone was again divided equally. This change brought the direction of attack for RCT 21 back to the northeast, paralleling the 9th. He directed that RCT 9's main effort be made on its left and the 21st's on its right. This would channel the bulk of his power through the center in an attempt to drive past the stubborn core of resistance that had stymied the division right flank since 1 March. (See Map VII.)
The 1st and 2d Battalions, 9th Marines, battled all day against the maze of caves, pillboxes, dug-in tanks, stone walls, and trenches that blocked their route of advance. These emplacements were cleverly hidden in the chaotic jumble of torn rocks, and the use of smokeless powder by the Japanese further complicated the problem of detection. Enemy mortars and artillery were not as active as on other days, but antitank and machine-gun fire was devastating. Marine tanks operated singly or in small groups in close coordination with the infantry, and although they knocked out many emplacements, these machines were unable to breach the hostile line.
The left regiment jumped off toward O-3 with 2/21 in the attack. The 3d Battalion, 9th (still
SHORE PARTY PERSONNEL used heavy cargo-handling equipment to keep supplies moving forward. This photo, taken from bow of a landing ship, shows cranes and tractors at work. Note Marston matting road at left. Human conveyor belt expedites the unloading of lighter packaged items.
attached to RCT 21), was to remain in position until relieved by 5th Division units, and 1/21 was in division reserve. As Companies F and G advanced, they received high-velocity fire from Hill 362B, but kept moving ahead. By 0900 they had gone nearly 400 yards, and were approaching the elevation around Hill 357 at the eastern edge of the Motoyama Plateau. To cover the flanks of this attack, Company I, 3/9 moved up on the left, and Company E (2/21 reserve) came up along the other side. At 1000, the 2d Battalion gained the top of the hill and began mopping up with the help of flame throwers and demolition teams from Company I.
Although deadly battle was still in progress, it now appeared that no important enemy resistance remained between 2/21 and the sea. Therefore, at 1430, the dividing line between regiments was again changed, and RCT 21 was ordered to swing to the southeast to envelop the Japanese positions that were holding up the 9th Marines. Hill 362C, in the southeastern portion of the division zone of action, was assigned as the objective.
The 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, was released from division reserve, reverting to parent control for this attack. The shortest route from its reserve assembly area near Motoyama to the line of departure behind 2/21 was across the airfield. But Japanese guns still interdicted the field. As a result, the battalion took a longer, but partially protected, route that led north around the airstrip into the 5th's zone, then southeast in the shelter of Hills 362B and 357. By 1530, 1/21 was in position, with Company K, 3/9 attached, and ready to jump off.
The attack, which was preceded by a 5-minute preparation by artillery and naval gunfire, made good progress initially, but was halted after a 250-yard advance. A platoon of tanks
CRITICAL SUPPLIES are parachuted onto Airfield Number 1. Marine and Army transports delivered 78 tons of equipment by air drop during the operation. (AF Photo)
supported 1/21 from positions near Motoyama Village, placing direct fire on Japanese emplacements in front of the Marines.
At 1800, further attempts to advance were halted, and the division consolidated positions on the best available ground. In the 21st Marines' zone of action 2/21 and 1/21 gained physical contact, but an open flank existed between the right of that regiment and RCT 9. This 250-yard gap was covered by fire. The 9th Marines tied in tightly at approximately the same positions it had held all day.
The significant action on D-plus-12 had all been in the northern half of the zone of action. There, the Marines had seized almost all the high ground northeast of the airfield and launched a drive to the southeast to envelop the enemy to the south. (See Map VII.)
Shortly after midnight, the Japanese found the gap between the two regiments and began infiltrating along the airfield. After a sharp fight between 2/9 and an estimated 200 enemy troops, this penetration was checked. The 3d Battalion, 21st Marines sent units forward from the reserve assembly area to the airfield where they patrolled until daylight.
The 3d Battalion, 21st Marines, reverted to RCT 21 at 0645 and called in its patrols prior to starting forward to relieve 1/21. It followed a circuitous route to avoid enemy fire, but while crossing the area north of Airfield Number 3, the battalion was taken under fire and considerably delayed.
The corps order for D-plus-13 (4 March) designated 0730 as K-Hour, but General Erskine received permission to hold up until 3/21 was ready to pass through the 1st Battalion. Finally, at 1140, units were ready and the division jumped off following the same scheme of maneuver as on the previous day. On the left of the 21st Marines' zone of action, 2/21 continued its efforts to seize the remainder of the high ground overlooking the beaches, with Hill 357 as the immediate objective. On the right, attacking at right angles to the 2d Battalion's front, 3/21 took up where 1/21 left off in its assault against Hill 362C. Company B, 1/21, was sent north to reinforce the seriously depleted 2d Battalion, and Company C stayed on line to protect the dangling right flank of 3/21. The rest of the battalion moved back into regimental reserve.
In spite of a 20-minute preparation by division artillery and destroyers, followed by a rolling barrage, the division failed to get its attack rolling. Flanking fire from the 5th Division zone prevented any advance by the 2d Battalion, and the 3d made only 100 yards before being stopped by the highly organized and formidable positions around Hill 362C.
The only change in the 9th Marines' zone of action was the return of 3/9, which had been operating with RCT 21. The 1st and 3d Battalions made repeated heartbreaking attempts to advance, but were unable to dent the positions to their front. Intermittent rain squalls and low-hanging clouds limited observation and reduced the effectiveness of supporting weapons. Late in the afternoon all divisions received the following dispatch from V Corps:
Consolidate at 1700. Except for limited adjustment of positions plan to utilize tomorrow for reorganization preparatory to attack on a limited front on 6 March. Each div effect necessary reorganization by noon tomorrow to have one RCT less one Bn available for employment 6 March exclusive of regimental reserves for units in the line. General direction of
proposed attack to eastward in present zones of action.12
Finally, after 14 days of grueling battle, the Marines were to take a well-deserved break for reorganization and what little rest the enemy would permit.
On 5 March, the 3d Division held the line with four battalions (2/21, 3/21, 1/9, 2/9), while the other two spent the day receiving replacement troops and equipment to strengthen their tired and depleted units for the next attack. Companies B and C, 21st Marines were pulled back from their positions on the line to rejoin their parent 1st Battalion in an assembly area north of Airfield Number 2. The 3d Battalion, 9th Marines remained in position as division reserve between the northeast-southwest runway and Motoyama Village.
No attacks were launched by the Marines and enemy infantry was not aggressive, but the artillery of both sides continued active. Particular attention was given to the Japanese defenses in the vicinity of Hill 362C, with air and naval gunpower cooperating in repeated bombardment against known and suspected positions in that area. Throughout the day, artillery officers worked on a fire plan for the support of the assault on 6 March.
It took the 3d Division nine punishing days of yard-by-yard advances to move approximately 3,000 yards from positions below Airfield Number 2 to the line it held on D-plus-14. This drive carried General Erskine's 9th and 21st Regiments through the heavily fortified main cross-island defense line and into violent contact with the secondary line of defense. Erskine and his regimental commanders had been constantly on the alert for weak points in the enemy defenses, and when a soft spot was detected, the advance was pushed ahead without regard for the progress of adjacent units, with reserves positioned to protect open flanks. Then the breach was widened by launching flank attacks through gaps between assault units, and the bypassed enemy left to be mopped up as the division smashed ahead.
Progress Behind the Lines
The destruction and neutralization effect of supporting weapons was exploited to the fullest extent possible. However, many enemy positions withstood even large-caliber shells from ships' guns. Furthermore, the extensive networks of caves and underground passages made it possible for the Japanese to wait out a barrage secure in subterranean chambers and then come up to the surface to resist from the 200-yard zone immediately to the front of Marines, where heavy supporting weapons could not fire for fear of endangering friendly troops. For these reasons, the battle was reduced to a series of close-in engagements between tank-supported Marines with flame throwers and demolitions, and the deeply entrenched, stubbornly resisting enemy.
Such were the tactics and the battle. To support this activity, thousands of men labored unceasingly behind the lines, on the beaches, and on board ships.
On D-plus-6, the day that the 3d Division began its drive up the center of the island, general unloading of cargo ships commenced, with the VAC Shore Party assuming control of all shore party activities. Easterly winds, which rolled up high surf on the eastern beaches, made unloading difficult, but LSM's and LST's plied steadily between cargo ships and the beach, and the work progressed rapidly. By D-plus-8, beach exits and roads were constructed on the western side of the island where preliminary surveys showed conditions suitable for beaching LCT's and smaller craft. Enemy fire from northern Iwo, however, frustrated attempts to operate those beaches until D-plus-1, when PURPLE 2 was opened.13 All assault shipping had been unloaded and retired from the area by 3 March (D-plus-12), and Garrison Group Zero14 commenced discharging its cargo the same day.
The urgent requirement for a landing strip to handle light observation planes from the Marine observation squadrons caused a revision of the original job assignments for engineer units. On 24 February, the 62d Naval Construction Battalion was still on board ship, so the 2d Separate Engineer Battalion (Corps Troops) was given the task of rehabilitating a strip 1,000 feet by 150 feet. By 1600 the following day, hard-working men of this unit had filled, scarified, bladed, and rolled 1,500 feet of the north-south runway of the southern airfield, and it was ready for use. Two observation planes from Marine Observation Squadron 4 (VMO-4), the first United States aircraft to land on Iwo Jima, flew in from the escort carrier Wake Island on 26 February, and by 1 March, 16 light planes of that unit and VMO-5 were based ashore.
With the completion of this partial renovation of Airfield Number 1, general repairs began with the 2d Separate Engineers assigned the reconstruction of the north-south and northwest-southeast strips. The 62d Seabees now assumed responsibility for rebuilding the long northeast-southwest runway. This work
A TEMPORARY CONTROL TOWER was set up in a triangle of the three runways on Airfield Number 1. Marines manned this tower until 7 March, when Army Air Force personnel took over for the Island Air Defense Commander. (AF Photo)
FIRST B-29 to land on Iwo, 4 March 1945, and Marine observation plane are pictured together on Airfield Number 1. By 26 March, 36 Superforts had used the emergency facilities on the island. (AF Photo)
proceeded steadily interrupted only by darkness and occasionally by heavy enemy fire.15
On 3 March, the first R4D (Sky Train) of Air Evacuation Squadron Two landed and evacuated 12 wounded Marines. Enemy fire on the field prevented further air activity that day, but on subsequent days, these flights continued without serious disruption. On 4 March, a B-29 made a successful forced landing and took off again after refueling.
Emergency resupply of ammunition (particularly the urgently needed 81mm mortar shells), medical supplies, and radio gear was made by air drop, and mail was also delivered in this manner. The first such mission was flown on 28 February, when three planes of the 9th Troop Carrier Squadron (USAAF) dropped 9,215 pounds of supplies along the western beaches. Four 'chutes fell in the water, but three of these were recovered by LVT's. Starting on 1 March, the drops were made over Airfield Number 1, and 69 mail bags for the 3d Division were delivered that day by Marine transports of VMR-952.16 Air drop of supplies and mail continued until 6 March when air-freight planes began using the airfield.17
By D-plus-14, 9,541 casualties had been evacuated to rear areas by transports and hospital ships. Air evacuation, which commenced on D-plus-12, had lifted another 125. The medical companies of the 4th and 5th Divisions, and V Corps Medical Battalion, in support of the 3d Division, had established field hospitals by D-plus-9, and Corps Evacuation Hospital Number 1 as well as the 38th Field Hospital (USA) were functioning ashore by D-plus-12. Only Companies A and B and Headquarters Company of the 3d Medical Battalion (3d Division) were on Iwo, but Company D operated medical facilities on the LSV Ozark.
These medical installations, all crowded into the narrow southern end of the island, sought shelter from enemy fire by every means possible. Some set up in aircraft revetments, others used Japanese emplacements, and engineers bulldozed large holes for units that found no ready-made protection. Company A, 3d Medical Battalion set up in a revetment and utilized two
concrete water storage tanks for surgery and first aid rooms.
The mobile blood bank facility landed on D-plus-8 and operated in the immediate vicinity of Company B, 3d Medical Battalion, in the shelter of a high embankment at the north end of the north-south runway of Airfield Number 1. In this location, it was accessible to all medical units operating on the island. The island air evacuation station was also located in the same general area.
Evacuation of casualties from the front was difficult and hazardous. Corpsmen and litter bearers operated under fire over extremely rocky, creviced, and exposed terrain. The courage and devotion of these men was outstanding in the face of the high casualty rate among Marines and naval personnel so engaged. Smoke was sometimes used to conceal the activities of evacuation teams, and tanks also aided in bringing out the wounded.
On D-plus-9, the LST(H)'s, which had been providing emergency treatment for the wounded, were released and left the area carrying full loads of casualties. By that time, shore-based medical facilities were able to take over that task and evacuation was direct from the beach to hospital ships and transports.
Along with care of the wounded went the somber task of collection and burial of the dead. Since no civilian labor was available, service troops were used to gather and inter friendly dead. It was extremely hazardous work because of the close proximity of the dead to enemy positions. Carrying parties were frequently subjected to enemy small-arms and mortar fire.
The Japanese seemed reluctant to leave their own dead on the field, and the slow advance plus rough terrain permitted night movement of enemy carrying parties in search of casualties. When the situation did not permit removal of his dead, the enemy often burned or buried them in pillboxes, thus hiding the true nature of his heavy losses and keeping Marines guessing as to the strength of Japanese forces still manning the island defenses.
As had been expected, the sea proved the sole source of water supply at Iwo Jima. The amount of fresh water carried to the island by assault units was adequate until D-plus-6 when engineers put water distillation units in operation. Because of subterranean heat, sump pits dug in the beaches furnished water at 137°, but sulphate deposits necessitated frequent cleaning of distillation equipment. On the other hand, if intake lines were placed in the surf to pick up the sea water direct, frequent stoppages occurred when violent wave action washed the lines away. Despite these difficulties, however, water supply never became a serious problem.
The crowded conditions and furious fighting ashore, plus the light enemy air reaction to the landing, caused the landing force commander to delay ordering Colonel Clarence E. Rothgeb's 138th Antiaircraft Artillery Group (Army) ashore. However, two 90mm antiaircraft batteries of the 506th Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion (Army) and units of the 483d Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion (Army) landed on D-plus-5. The two remaining 90mm batteries came ashore two days later, and elements of the automatic weapons battalion and group headquarters continued landing until D-plus-11. Three batteries of the 506th were assigned the mission of neutralizing enemy installations on Kama and Kangoku Rocks, which lay off the northwest coast. The 5th Division had been reporting rocket and mortar fire from these rocks, and it was planned to silence the positions by naval gunfire, strafing, and bombing. After considerable working over, light antiaircraft fire was still observed, and the Army 90mm gun units were given blanket authority to fire whenever Kauna and Kangoku showed any activity.18
Other Army Garrison Force units that were under the operational control of VAC landed during this same period. Major General James E. Chaney, the Commanding General, Army Garrison Forces, and Island Commander, Iwo Jima, landed with his headquarters on 27 February, along with a detachment of the 147th
Infantry Regiment and advance elements of the VII Fighter Command. These units immediately commenced reconnaissance and liaison activities in preparation for the subsequent arrival of their complete organizations in the garrison shipping.19
General Schmidt achieved coordination of air, naval gunfire, and artillery through Colonel John S. Letcher, his corps artillery officer. Together with representatives of the Landing Force Air Support Control Unit and the corps air and naval gunfire officers, Letcher screened requests for supporting fires, eliminated duplication of effort, and then forwarded these request to the proper commands for action. In addition to his close association with those officers, the coordinator worked in continuous communication with liaison officers assigned to the three division artillery regiments.20 Although the corps headquarters disembarked from the Auburn on 24 February, and the ship-to-shore transition of coordination functions began this same day, most of this coordinating group remained on board ship until sufficient communications gear could be landed to
AIR EVACUATION of casualties to the Marianas began on D-plus-12. A total of 2,449 patients were evacuated by air. Careful preflight screening prevented any deaths on board planes.
ADMIRAL NIMITZ is greeted on Iwo by Major General Schmidt, (shaking hands), Rear Admiral Hill (nearest camera), and Major General Chaney, USA, Garrison Force Commander (on right).
support its activities. Because of delays, Colonel Letcher did not move ashore until 1 March. The Commander, Landing Force Air Support Control Unit (Colonel Vernon E. Megee), came ashore on 24 February, but did not assume control of support aircraft until 1 March, at which time he also became Commander Air, Iwo Jima. The final establishment of these agencies ashore greatly facilitated coordination and control of fire support for the corps.21
The battle-tested 3d Marines, which had been held in Expeditionary Troops Reserve since the beginning of the operation, was sent back to Guam on 5 March without having set foot on Iwo Jima. As early as 28 February (D-plus-9), Generals Schmidt and Erskine had requested the use of Colonel James A. Stuart's regiment to give added punch to the slowly moving attack.22 The landing force had already lost several times the strength of that regiment in casualties, and exhaustion seriously impaired the efficiency of all divisions. These commanders felt strongly that the employment of the 3d Marines would shorten the battle. Vigorous efforts to obtain the release of the unit to VAC continued, and on the day before the regiment departed, General Schmidt informed the Commanding General, Expeditionary Troops that the situation ashore did not justify withdrawal of RCT 3.23
General Smith, on the other hand, reasoned that enough troops were already ashore to complete the seizure of Iwo and that another regiment would aggravate already crowded conditions. After consultation with the Commander, Joint Expeditionary Force, (Admiral Turner), he denied the requests and the 3d Marines sailed away.24
The troops resumed the offensive on 6 March in an all-out effort to breach the Japanese final defense line. Eleven battalions of corps and divisional artillery fired the two most intensive preparations of the operation to support first one and then the other of two coordinated
Resuming the Offensive (D-plus-15)25
infantry attacks. These assaults were launched in echelon, one hour apart, so that maximum benefit could be derived from massed fires.
At K-Hour (0800), the 2d Battalion, 21st Marines jumped off in the left of the 3d Division zone of action in conjunction with the 5th Division's attack to the northeast. One hour later, the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, passed through 3/21 to attack with the 9th Marines and the 4th Division to crack the powerful defenses around Hill 362C.
In spite of the massive preassault bombardment by Marine artillery and naval gunfire, 2/21 was greeted by a counterpreparation and received heavy small-arms and automatic weapons fire from the front and left front. The 2d Battalion, 27th Marines, across the division boundary on the left, also met stiff resistance, and the attack in this sector bogged down with no gain.
At 0845, artillery fires shifted to mass in a "time on target"26 preparation to support the K-plus 60 minute attack. Hill 362C, the objective of this assault, was some 500 yards from the line of departure, and the intervening terrain was an almost incredible confusion of rocks and broken ground in which Kuribayashi's troops had fashioned one of the strongest defenses on Iwo. In this part of the island, the pent-up sulfur underground bubbled through fissures and crevices and made the surface so hot that it was almost impossible to live in foxholes.
In five days of deadly struggle, Marines had gained almost no ground in this area, and 6 March was no exception. Enemy small-arms, mortar, and antitank fires were heavy despite the tremendous barrage that Marine and naval gunners flung against them.27
At 1440, another preparation was fired in an attempt to spark the attack. After two minutes of fire immediately in front of 1/21 and the 9th Marines, the impact was lifted 100 yards, continuing for five more minutes. Behind this curtain of steel, the 1st Battalion was at last able to move out, and the 1st and 2d Battalions of RCT 9 also inched briefly forward. But at 1800, when orders were received to consolidate for the night, the greatest gain registered was 150 yards by 1/21, with lesser advances by the 9th Marines.
Meanwhile, 2/21, which had been stopped in its tracks at K-Hour, launched a second attack in coordination with 2/27. Company G slashed ahead, clearing the crest and eastern slopes of Hill 357, but the unit on its left could not move and contact between the two was lost. Late in the afternoon, finding it impossible to regain this contact, the company withdrew from its advanced position and tied in along the original line of departure.
The 3d Battalion, 9th Marines, which had been attached to RCT 21 at 0600, spent the day in an assembly area northeast of Airfield Number 3, ready to exploit any gain made by the 21st Marines. After being passed through by 1/21, 3/21 reverted to division reserve and moved back to an assembly area west of Motoyama.
Tanks were of little assistance in this area. Their operations were necessarily limited to existing trails or new routes carved out of the rocks by busy and courageous tankdozers and armored dozers. The trails were mined and covered by antitank guns, and the construction of approaches was time consuming and costly. Company C (tanks) was committed on 6 March in support of the 9th Marines, and two tanks struck mines, suffering damage to their tracks, while a third was hit by 47mm fire. Three tankmen were killed and three wounded as a result.
Although the fighting was dragging terribly, down at the southern end of the island significant developments were taking place. On 6 March, Brigadier General Ernest C. Moore, USA, Commanding General, VII Fighter Command, landed on Airfield Number 1 with the Group Commander, 15th Fighter Group and 28 P-51's (Mustangs) and 12 P-61's (Black Widows) of the 47th Fighter and 548th Night Fighter Squadrons respectively. The following
day, the Island Commander, General Chaney, assumed responsibility for base development, air defense, and operation of the airfields. General Moore now relieved Colonel Megee as Commander Air, Iwo Jima, and took over control of island air activities.28 On 8 and 9 March, the forward echelon of Marine VMTB (torpedo bomber squadron) 242 arrived from Tinian to fly antisubmarine patrol around Iwo day and night.29 These aircraft assumed this task when the escort carriers left Iwo from 9 to 11 March. Support by carrier aircraft continued until 10 March, but Iwo-based planes of the 15th Fighter Group took over combat air patrol duties on 8 March and flew close support missions from that time until 14 March.30
At 2055, 6 March, the 3d Division received the corps order for continuation of the attack at 0730 the next morning.32 But General Erskine felt that the old pattern of assault had proved unsuccessful in this sector and should be abandoned in favor of surprise. Therefore, although it was too late for reconnaissance and orientation of units by daylight, he requested and received permission to jump off at 0500.33 There would be no change in boundaries or objectives. The 21st Marines, using 3/9 (attached) in the assault, was to attack south and seize Hill 362C, while the 9th Marines advanced 200 yards to the east in its zone of action prepared to continue the attack to the coast at daylight. (See Map VIII.)
Predawn Attack (7 March)31
The chances of this predawn assault being a complete surprise were good. Marine tactics thus far in the Pacific had not included night attacks and, except for a few patrols, Marines on Iwo had not been active in front of their lines after dark. Every precaution was taken to maintain secrecy. No messages concerning the night attack were transmitted over radio nets, and there was to be no special artillery preparation. Troops were cautioned to maintain absolute silence until the bulk of their force had been detected by the enemy.
The 21st Marines had its 1st Battalion already in the line and reasonably well oriented on the terrain, but it was decided to pass the fresher 3d Battalion, 9th, through 1/21 for this attack. Although the night was overcast and rainy, the naval gunfire illumination, which continued until just before the attack, gave sufficient light for assault commanders to pick out necessary intermediate objectives and features of the terrain for determining the direction of attack. Before 3/9 passed through, the company commanders of 1/21 briefed the unit leaders on lay of the land to the front, pointing out the elevation they believed to be Hill 362C, some 250 yards beyond their lines. To establish the direction of attack, the commanders of K and L, the two assault companies, were directed to shoot an azimuth to the objective as indicated by officers of 1/21. Any necessary correction in the line of advance was to be made after daylight.
At 0320, the companies left their assembly areas for the line of departure, and jumped off promptly at 0500 with K on the right, L on the left, and I in reserve. The artillery had been using smoke shells liberally in harassing fires throughout the night, and at 0500 smoke was delivered against Hill 362C to screen the attack.
Surprise was complete. The Marines moved stealthily forward without detection until 0535, when an enemy machine gun opened up on the left only to be silenced by a blast from a Company I flame thrower. From then on, there was scattered resistance, mainly on the left,
until shortly after 0600, when Company L ran into stiff opposition.
At daybreak (about 0620), the 3/9 commander made a careful check of the ground against a map and photographs and was able to locate definitely the positions of his companies. It was then he learned that the hill company K was in the process of clearing was Hill 331. Hill 362C, which they had hoped to reach under cover of darkness, was still some 250 yards away. Evidently the identification of the objective made prior to the attack had been in error. This was certainly not surprising as even in broad daylight location of position on this rough ground was difficult. Fortunately, however, the direction of attack had been correct, and the companies were contacted by radio and ordered to continue on to 362C at 0715, after a 10-minutes artillery preparation on the hill and adjacent high ground.
The Japanese, now fully awake, resisted fiercely and Marines received fire not only from the front, but also from the many positions they had bypassed earlier. Progress was very slow as the many caves and bunkers were eliminated one by one with flame throwers, rockets, and demolition charges. Each position required a separate bit of maneuver by the unit that encountered it.
Finally, however, Company K, which had advanced faster than Company L, seized Hill 362C just prior to 1400, and was ordered to organize positions on the hill and assist L by fire. Since there was no contact with the 9th Marines on the right, Company I was committed to move up on K's right, bending back and facing south to protect the battalion's open flank. Company B, 21st Marines, was attached to 3/9 toward evening to help secure the battalion's other flank.
In summing up his battalion's activities for this day, Lieutenant Colonel Boehm wrote:
Most notable in the night attack was the fact that, although nearly all the basic dope was bad, the strategy proved very sound, since it turned out that the open ground taken under cover of darkness was the most heavily fortified of all terrain captured that day, and the enemy occupying this vital ground were taken completely by surprise (actually sleeping in their pillboxes and caves). . . . It should be kept in mind, however, that a stroke of luck went a long way toward making the attack a success.34
The 9th Marines had no more time to prepare for this attack than the 21st, and briefing and orientation had to be done hastily. Fortunately, Major William T. Glass, former executive officer of 2/9, who had been placed in command of 1/9 just before midnight 6 March, was familiar with the terrain and the situation to his immediate front.35 With the troops already in position, the battalion jumped off smoothly.
While the 21st Marines, using 3/9 in the assault, were slipping south under cover of darkness, the 9th Marines moved out to the east. By daylight, the 2d Battalion on the left and the 1st Battalion on the right had penetrated 200 yards into the maze of fortifications that had held them so long at bay. But then it happened. The Japanese came suddenly to life and poured devastating fire at the Marines from all directions. Communications to the rear were cut off, and 1/9 had to fight savagely to re-establish freedom of movement behind the lines. The 2d Battalion was even harder hit, and the battle raged confused and terrible.
By 1015, it seemed clear that the 9th Marines could not break through the resistance ahead of it, and General Erskine shifted the boundary between regiments sharply to the south so that the advance of the 21st Marines would pinch out the 9th. By noon, the assault companies of 1/9 had recovered sufficiently to launch a coordinated attack. Company C on the left was held up almost immediately, but B on the right moved ahead steadily with Company G, 23d Marines, advancing alongside. This looked like the break that was needed, and Company B was ordered to push ahead toward Hill 362C to make contact with the 3d Battalion, 9th. If this could be accomplished, the Japanese in front of RCT 9 would be cut off. The company gained a foothold on the high ground, but when the 3d Battalion marked its right flank with smoke, the distance was too great to fill. Confronted with heavy enemy fire and mounting casualties, Company B was
withdrawn to tie in with the rest of the 1st Battalion along the line held at dawn. (See Map VIII.)
In the left of the 9th's zone of action, Companies E and F of the 2d Battalion were engaged all day in a battle for survival. The reserve company covered the withdrawal of the assault units by fire, and tanks tried desperately to break through to assist. But when the lead tank hit a mine in a defile, the only route to Company F was blocked and the tanks were ordered to support E. With remnants of Company F still pinned down at 1600, a second attempt was made to get tanks through, but rugged terrain also blocked this effort. It was not until the next day that tanks and infantry were finally able to break through to bring out the few remaining riflemen and the company commander.
The 1st and 2d Battalions of the 21st Marines were not involved in the predawn attack. After being passed through, 1/21 made minor adjustments in the line and faced east, but did not advance. The 2d Battalion, however, attacked at 0745 in conjunction with 2/27 on its left and was able to gain easily. But when the 27th Marines was unable to advance, 2/21 withdrew to its former positions around Hill 357. (See Map VIII.)
Major Percy summed up the situation for his battalion in these words:
It is to be noted at this point that once the battalion had reached the high ground on 3 March, resistance within the battalion zone of action was scattered and easily isolated by assault teams operating on mop-up patrols. But due to the nature of the terrain, the battalion, depleted in strength as it was, was unable to advance more rapidly than the left flank unit, or to hold lines at night in advance of its flanking units.36
At 1745, the boundary between regiments was straightened out, again giving Hills 331 and 362C to the 9th Marines, and 3/9 reverted to its parent unit. The predawn attack had been successful where days of daylight assault had failed. The 400-yard advance to Hill 362C by 3/9 placed the Marines in positions from which they could look down on the last enemy stronghold in the 3d Division sector. And although the 1st and 2d Battalions, 9th Marines had suffered heavy casualties, they had taken a 200-yard bite out of the stubborn core of resistance that had held them stymied since 1 March.
For the next three days, 2/21, 1/21, and 3/9 battled to reach the coast, while 3/21 and 2/9 whittled away at the stubborn enemy pocket that had resisted for so long in the 9th Marines zone of action.
To the Sea (D-plus-17--D-plus-19)37
On 8 March, K-Hour (0750) was preceded by a 10-minute preparation by division and corps artillery, and direct support destroyers fired from 0730 to 0800. The 2d Battalion, 21st Marines regulated its advance on the 5th Division and sent patrols out to the front to determine where and in what strength the enemy was located. Whenever Marines tried to move down to the cliffs overlooking the beach, they came under flanking fire from the left (north) and right (south). Nine tanks from Company A, 3d Tank Battalion, supported 2/21, firing into caves and pillboxes in the rugged area just ahead of the battalion. On the 2d Battalion's right, however, 1/21 moved slowly ahead and by 1800 had gained 300 yards through the last organized resistance between it and the sea.
In the 9th Marines' zone of action, 3/9 attacked east from Hill 362C against bitter but disorganized resistance. The initial objective was the edge of the plateau overlooking the beach with the waters' edge as the final goal. A destroyer executed direct fire into the steep draws that led down to the sea and an air strike was directed against the same area, but for the most part supporting fires were limited to mortars, and the fighting was close-in as the enemy conducted a "last-ditch" stand in the broken terrain. By 1600, the battalion had reached the first objective, but was ordered to hold up on the high ground because any attempt to move down to the beach would bring it under fire from the right flank.
Back in the area of the pocket south of Hill
CREW OF 75MM HOWITZER takes a break between fire missions. 75mm and 105mm howitzers of the 12th Marines came ashore between D-plus-6 and D-plus-10 to support the 3d Division.
331, the 9th Marines passed the 3d Battalion, 21st Marines (attached) through its 1st Battalion in an effort to flank the resistance from the south, while the 2d Battalion, 9th maintained pressure along its front, consolidating the previous day's gains.
Early in the morning of 9 March, General Smith's Expeditionary Troops command post transferred to the Auburn, and the Eldorado, with Admiral Turner and his staff, departed for Guam. The Joint Expeditionary Force, Amphibious Support Force, Attack Force, Gunfire and Covering Force, and Expeditionary Troops were dissolved as task force and Admiral Hill assumed the duties of Senior Officer Present Afloat, Iwo Jima, as Commander Task Group 51.21.38
Ashore, the action in the 3d Division zone followed the old familiar pattern. An artillery preparation against the pocket did little more than drive the enemy temporarily underground. When infantry and tanks moved in, the Japanese were ready and waiting, conducting a passive but effective defense. Using smoke to cover their operation, and air bursts to disperse the infantry, an enemy demolition team knocked out one of the tanks. Neither 2/9 nor 3/21 made any notable gains during the day.
Continuing the drive to the sea, both 3/9 and 1/21 sent patrols down over the cliffs to the beach. Resistance to the front was sporadic and easily overcome. An air strike was called in against one stubborn enemy group, and the 3d Division Naval Gunfire Officer, on board a direct support destroyer, directed its fire into caves and emplacements along the cliffs.
Although Company A (1/21) was the first tactical unit to reach the northeastern beaches, a reconnaissance patrol led by the battalion intelligence officer arrived earlier. This group gleefully scooped up a canteenful of sea water
and sent it to the corps commander with the message, "For inspection, not consumption."39
The 2d Battalion, 21st Marines, was still unable to push its left (north) flank ahead to the edge of the cliff because of the enemy resistance in the 5th Division zone of action, but on the right, it moved forward, keeping contact with 1/21. Although patrol activity all the way to the waters' edge had revealed that enemy resistance was light, all battalions held their positions on the bluffs above the beach for the night.
On 9 March, General Schmidt's headquarters announced that carrier planes would not be required any longer for close support, and USS Enterprise left the area at 1800 that evening. No carrier support was furnished the next day, and the last of the escort carriers sailed for Ulithi on 11 March. The 15th Fighter Group (USAAF) now flew all troop support missions under control of the Landing Force Air Support Control Unit.
Since the 3d Division was now operating in a restricted area, there was no artillery or naval gunfire preparation for the attack on 10 March. In the zone of action of RCT 9, 3/9 pushed down to the beach and turned south toward the division right boundary. Throughout the day, this unit was held up by fire from the high ground on its right flank. The 3d Battalion, 21st and tanks of Company B hacked away at the pocket but made little progress. During the morning, one of these tanks was hit by fire from a Marine Sherman that had been abandoned the previous day and was now manned by a Japanese soldier. An infantry bazooka, (2.36-inch rocket launcher) was called forward and knocked out the enemy-operated tank.
Farther north, in the 21st Marines' sector, patrols from 1/21 established the fact that there were no enemy on the beach, and that unit swung to the north with its right flank moving along the cliffs. By 1500, all organized resistance had been eliminated in the 1st Battalion's zone of action, and patrols were dispatched to clean out the rear areas. The 2d Battalion, 21st Marines was still unable to advance its left flank, but pivoted to the north to move its right along with the 1st Battalion.
Early in the afternoon, the 1st Battalion, 9th was called up from division reserve and moved into the 4th Division zone of action to attack northeast to make a junction with 3/9, thereby localizing the remaining enemy resistance in the 9th Marines' zone. At 1535, the 1st Battalion launched its attack, but had not advanced more than 200 yards when nightfall halted the drive. Meanwhile, the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines disengaged from the west side of the pocket and reverted to division reserve. Immediate steps were taken to reequip this unit and integrate and train replacements.
By evening of 10 March, except for the enemy pocket which held out for six more days and scattered resistance in the cliffs overlooking the beach, the 3d Division's zone of action up the center of the island was clear. The bitter fighting to follow could now be reported as "mopping up." (See Map VIII.)
Personnel losses during this 14-day drive up the island were heavy, and the 3d Division's combat efficiency at the end of this period was seriously impaired. Commenting on this situation, the Commanding General, 3d Marine Division, wrote:
Infantry battalions were now [9 March] definitely beginning to feel the presence of the large number of replacements, manifested by a sharp drop in combat efficiency. These men were found to be willing but very poorly trained, especially in basic individual conduct. The fault teamwork, resulting from lack of small unit training, was also a definite hindrance to the operation of the infantry battalions. Many needless causalities occurred in these replacements because of a lack of knowledge of proper use of cover and concealment.40
During this period, the division suffered 3,563 casualties, broken down as follows:
Killed in action 627 Died of wounds 200 Wounded in action 2,241 Missing in action 4 Combat fatigue 491 Total 3,563
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (5) * Next Chapter (7)
1. J.A. Isely and P.A. Crowl, The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War (Princeton, New Jersey, 1951), 495, hereinafter cited as Isely and Crowl. Ltr Gen H. Schmidt (Ret) to CMC, 15Jan53.
2. Fresh in General Schmidt's mind was the experience on Saipan where his 4th Division advanced so rapidly that he had a 3,000-yard gap on his flank, which imposed a serious problem of flank security. Ltr. Gen H. Schmidt to Author, 28Oct52.
3. This chapter deals only with the 3d Division operations in the center of the corps zone of action. The actions of the 5th on the left, and the 4th on the right, are covered individually in Chapters VII and VIII respectively.
4. The designations "PETER" and "199 OBOE" derived from target grid locations on the island map, not from elevations. These hills were actually about 360 feet high. Unless otherwise cited, material in this section is based on the following: 3d MarDiv SAR; 9th Marine Action Report, Iwo Jima Operation, 20Apr45, hereinafter cited as 9th Mar SAR; 12th Mar SAR; 21st Mar SAR; 3d TkBn SAR; VAC C-3 Periodic Reports, 19Feb45 through 9Apr45, hereinafter cited as C-3 Periodic Rpt.
5. More aircraft were available for close support missions on D-plus-6 than on the previous day when special search missions and refueling operations had placed a serious limitation on air support. TF 56 G-3 Periodic Reports, Iwo Jima Operation, 19Feb45 through 13Mar45, No. 7, hereinafter cited as TF 56 Periodic Rpt.
6. The 2d Battalion considered riding the infantry across the airfield on the tanks, but this idea was abandoned because the height of enemy machine-gun fire was not known and mortar fire against the tanks was intense. 9th Mar SAR, Encl B, Pt III, 2.
7. VAC OpRpt, Annex A, Operation Order 6-45, 25Feb45.
8. 9th Mar SAR, 5.
9. Unless otherwise cited, material in this section is based on the following: 3d MarDiv SAR; 9th Mar SAR; 12th Mar SAR; 21st Mar SAR; 3d TkBn SAR; VAC OpRpt, Annex A, Operation Orders; 3d MarDiv SAR; Operation Orders; C-3 Periodic Rpts; VAC OpRpt.
10. There were three 362-foot hills on Iwo Jima. To avoid confusion they have been designated as A, B, and C. Hill 362A was northwest in the 5th's zone. Hill 362B, also in the 5th zone, was in the north-central portion of the island, and 362C was located at the northeast, in the 3d Division's zone of action.
11. Firing batteries of the 12th Marines came ashore from 24Feb to 1Mar45. All of 1/12 (75mm pack howitzers) was ashore by the end of D-plus-6. LtCol William T. Fairbourn's 2/12 (75mm pack howitzers) completed landing operations the morning of 26Feb. 3/12, LtCol Alpha L. Bowser, Jr., stretched out landing activities from 27Feb to 1Mar, placing the last piece of the 12th Marines in firing position at 1600, D-plus-10. The 4th Bn of Maj J.B. Wallen had its Battery K in firing positions on 27Feb, but heavy surf prevented the other two batteries (M and L) from landing until the next day. The 3d and 4th Bns were equipped with heavier 105mm howitzers. 12th Mar SAR, Encls. A, B, C, and D.
12. VAC Disp 1624, 4Mar45.
13. On D-plus-10 the ammunition resupply ship Columbia Victory was ordered to stand off the western beaches to be unloaded. Upon approaching the area, sh was bracketed by fire from the northwestern end of the island. Near misses caused superficial damage and wounded one man, so she was ordered to withdraw. CominCh, 1-9.
14. Garrison Group Zero consisted of troops of the garrison force that were recommended by type commanders to be present at Iwo during the assault phase, but could not be carried in assault shipping because of space limitations. The Zero echelon was embarked in additional shipping to arrive at the objective on call after the assault ships, but prior to the first echelon garrison ships. TF 56 TQMRpt, 6.
15. VAC EngRpt, 5-6.
16. This was not the first mail to arrive on the island. On 24Feb, a ship brought mail that was transferred to LST 809, which served as Fleet Post Office. VAC Personnel Rpt, 17.
17. During the operation, Army and Marine air transports (C-47's and C-46's) delivered 78 tons of supplies by air drop and 40 tons by air freight. Last delivery, Mission No. 17, was made on 26Mar45. These cargo planes were from the Army 9th Troop Carrier Squadron and Marine squadrons (VMR's), 253, 353, and 952. VAC Logistics Rpt, Encl A, 16-23; Sherrod, 349-350.
18. 138th AAA Group SAR, 1-6. The 138th AAA Group never had occasion to perform antiaircraft missions during the operation since no enemy planes came within range after the guns were ashore. Prior to landing, however, machine guns of Battery B, 508th, mounted on the deck of LST 84, cooperated with 40mm guns of the ship to knock down an enemy plane during the raid of 21 February.
19. Army Garrison Force, Special Action Report, Iwo Jima Campaign, Mar45, 3.
20. VAC ArtyRpt, Encl P, Annex A to Encl P; Ibid., Appendix 2, 38; VAC Operation Plan 3-44, Artillery Annex, Appendix 5; Isely and Crowl, 504-505.
21. TF 51 Rpt, Pt V, Sec E, 15; VAC Signal Officer's Report, Iwo Jima Operation, 29Apr45, 114-117, hereinafter cited as VAC SigRpt.
22. Disp CTG 56.1 to CTF 56, 1732, 28Feb45; Interview Gen H.J. Schmidt with author, 12Mar53.
23. Disp LANFOR to EXTROPAC, 1239, 4Mar45; Interview Gen H. Schmidt with author, 12Mar53.
24. Iseley and Crowl, 528.
25. Unless otherwise cited, material in this section is based on the following: VAC OpRpt, Annex A, Operation Order 13-45, 5Mar45; 3d MarDiv Operation Order 13-45, 5Mar45; 3d MarDiv SAR; VAC Arty Rpt.
26. In a "time on target" (TOT) preparation, all weapons are fired on a time schedule so that the first rounds land on the target simultaneously.
27. The 11 artillery battalions fired about 2,500 rounds of 155mm howitzer ammunition and 20,000 75mm and 105mm shells during the two phases of preparation fires on 6 March. VAC ArtyRpt, 14-15.
28. VAC OpRpt, 38, 40.
29. Sherrod, 350.
30. TF 51 OpRpt, Pt V, Sec E, 15; VAC OpRpt, 38, 40.
31. Unless otherwise cited, the material in this section is based on the following: 3d MarDiv SAR; 9th Mar SAR; 21st Mar SAR; 3d TkBn SAR; LtCol H.J. Turton, "A Division Pre-Dawn Attack," Quantico, Va., MCS, AWS (SC), 1946-47; Maj R.D. Heinl, Jr., "Dark Horse on Iwo," Marine Corps Gazette, Aug 45.
32. VAC G-3 action message, serial 2131, 6Mar45 (memorandum record, telephone acknowledgment receipt of VAC OpOrder 14-45); VAC OpOrder 14-45, 6Mar45.
33. VAC G-3 action message, serial 2143 (record of telephonic conversations, 7Mar45). This document shows VAC authorizing 3d Div to continue attack at 0530, but 3d Div OpOrder 14-15 gives 0500 as K-Hour.
34. 9th Mar SAR, Encl C, 11.
35. Ltr LtCol W.T. Glass to CMC, 14Feb53.
36. 21st Mar SAR, Encl B, 8.
37. Unless otherwise cited, the material in this section is based on the following: #d MarDiv SAR; 9th Mar SAR; 21st Mar SAR; 3d TkBn SAR.
38. TF 51 Rpt, Pt III, 23. TG 51.21 consisted of the following: 51.21--SOPA Iwo Jima, 51.22--Garrison Group, 51.23--Service Group, 51.24--Screen Group, 51.25--Gunfire Support Group, 51.26--Carrier Support and Covering Group, 51.28--Minesweeping and Net Laying Group, 51.29--Convoy Group. The Commanding General Expeditionary Troops was designated TF 51.27. The Island Command Group of the Garrison Force retained its designation as 10.16.
39. Ltr LtCol R.H. Honser to CMC, 3Apr53; 1stLt R.A. Aurthur and 1stLt K. Colhmia, The Third Marine Division, (Washington, 1948), 245.
40. 3d MarDiv SAR, 16.