Chapter IX
The Final Phase

The final phase of the operation began on 11 March. The 3d and 4th Divisions drove rapidly to the east coast in their zones of action, eliminating the last organized resistance, and by 13 March only two stubborn pockets held out in those areas. At the northern end of the island 5th Divisions troops pushed slowly northward against bitter opposition, but by 16 March the last of the Japanese were bottled up in the western half of Kitano Point and the rocky gorge near the coast 500 yards to the south. In this last desolate, shell-torn draw the enemy held out until 26 March (D-plus-35), ignoring all inducements to surrender.

Artillery, air, and naval gunfire could be used only in the extreme northern end of the island during these last days of the battle. There the Mustangs (P-51's) of the 15th Fighter Group provided effective close support until 14 March, and all Marine artillery battalions combined to fire heavy preparations and harassing fires until withdrawn from the fight on the 16th. Destroyers performed most of the naval gunfire missions, but the heavy cruisers Tuscaloosa and Salt Lake City fired until 12 March. From 17 to 24 March, destroyers furnished illumination and then they too were withdrawn. Elsewhere, the lines were in such close proximity and the enemy-held areas so small that tanks and half-tracks had to replace these heavy support weapons.

Cushman's Pocket (D-plus-20--D-plus-25)1

By morning of 11 March, the only effective opposition to the 3d Division came from terrain along the right boundary, where the Japanese held a shattered ridge nose overlooking the sea, and the stubborn core of resistance southwest of Hill 362C. This last strong point, which had already withstood several days of attack by 1/9, 2/9, and 3/21, was named "Cushman's Pocket," after the commanding officer of 2/9, Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Cushman, Jr. (See Map XVII.)

The 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, which had launched an attack northeastward from the 4th Division zone of action on 10 March, continued the assault on 11 March with two companies abreast. This drive was intended to sweep the last hostile troops from the ridge in the southeast corner of the 3d's zone and make contact with 3/9, which was moving south along the coast against the same high ground. Then both battalions would turn west to attack Cushman's Pocket from the rear.

Supporting tanks shielded the 1st Battalion as it moved out across an open field south of the rocky nose and blasted all caves and suspected positions as Marines fought their way up onto


the ridge. The 3d Battalion also requested Shermans, but not until early afternoon did armor reach the front in that zone of action along a road cut through by an armored dozer. With this support, the 1st and 3d Battalions crushed the opposition and made contact at 1515. After the junction these units mopped up along the coast and then organized a defense for the night in high ground just east of Hill 362C and outposted the beach.

About 500 yards westward, the 3d Battalion, 21st Marines, attached to RCT 9, continued battering against the southwest edge of Cushman's Pocket. Although this pocket was contained on only one side, the Japanese made no effort to sally forth for offensive operations or to withdraw. Instead, they held their ground and conducted a bitter defense in place from caves, spider traps, and dug-in tanks.

Early in the morning, a sled-mounted 7.2-inch rocket launcher was attached to 3/21 in the hope that its crushing barrages might shake the enemy from his positions in the pocket. This weapon, designed for mounting on the back of an M4A2 tank, would not fit the new M4A3 tanks in use by VAC. Therefore, the corps ordnance officer had supervised the modification of four of these weapons to operate from sleds. Each sled mount consisted of 20 rocket tubes capable of delivering a dense, shocking explosion of 640 pounds of TNT in a single volley. Towed into action by a tank or dozer, this launcher had a maximum range of 250 yards. Deflection and range were set by moving the entire sled. Ten barrages smashed the pocket area, and although the effect could not be directly observed, it appeared that no miracle had taken place. As the Marines moved in, enemy resistance continued undiminished and the men of 3/21 gained little.2

Along the division's north (left) boundary high ground dominated the beach area in the 5th Division's zone of action, so RCT 21 (less 3/21) did not try to advance that day. During the morning, RCT 27 moved troops in behind the left flank of 2/21 to launch an attack to the north, and by 1030 the 21st Marines was able to withdraw that battalion from combat for a much needed rest. The 1st Battalion, 21st then extended northward to tie in with the 5th Division. (See Map XVII.)

No artillery fired in support of the 3d Division on 11 March, but the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines was held ready for call fires if needed. The other three battalions of the 12th reinforced the fires of the 13th Marines. Aerial observers maintained surveillance of the 3d Division's zone of action during the day and reported the location of friendly troops.

As the 5th Division's east (right) flank worked slowly northward during the next four days, the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines moved in the same direction across the division boundary to protect the 5th's flank. With its lines tied to Company I, 27th Marines, the battalion held positions along the cliffs overlooking the coast and sent combat patrols out along the beaches below. The advance of the 5th Division governed progress along the bluffs and shorelines.

Marine engineers and infantrymen continued destroying pillboxes and caves during the hours of daylight, but at night the enemy crawled out of other caves and holes to hurl grenades and then dart back into their hideouts. Alert Marines shot and killed many of these night raiders before they could make good a retreat.

By 15 March, the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines had extended about 600 yards northwestward into the 5th Division zone and held positions along the bluff and outposts down on the beach. The 2d Battalion, which reverted to RCT 21 reserve on 11 March, spent the daylight hours in reorganization and resupply, but manned a regimental reserve line during the night.

On 12 March the 1st and 3d Battalions attacked west toward Cushman's Pocket while 3/21 acted as a holding force on the opposite side. On the right (north) flank, 3/9 had relatively easy going in its zone of action, but 1/9 met stiff opposition and moved slowly. An armored bulldozer cleared a tank road to the 1st Battalion's front, but at no time could more than two Shermans operate together in the rough terrain. Infantrymen worked their way forward among the miniature sandstone buttes to guide tanks and point out the camouflaged enemy emplacements. Most of these positions


were so well concealed that they escaped detection until Marines were almost on top of them. As usual in this type of fighting, the infantry flame throwers and demolitions proved the most successful weapons.

The 3d Battalion, 21st reverted to its parent organization on 13 March and left its position on the west side of the shrinking pocket. The 1st and 3d Battalions, 9th Marines continued pressing the attack from the east. On the north flank, 3/9 completed reduction of that portion of the pocket in its zone of action, and 1/9 made substantial gains to compress the enemy-held area to about 250 yards on a side. Regular Shermans and flame tanks operated very effectively on the 13th, neutralizing a number of concrete emplacements. Upon completion of its assignment against the pocket, the 3d Battalion, 9th was ordered to the Hill 362C area where it undertook a systematic mop-up.

NAVAL GUNFIRE caused landslide which partially blocked entrance to this cave in cliffs above northeastern shore. 3d Division units held positions along the top of these cliffs and outposted the beaches as they waited for the 5th Division to advance northward.


THE LAST POCKET of enemy defenders in the 4th Division zone of action held out in a jungle of small sandstone buttes and withered vegetation.

The next day, 14 March, operations against Cushman's Pocket entered the last phase. The 1st Battalion pressed the attack during the morning and early afternoon to gain about 100 yards. Then at 1530, the 2d Battalion passed through that unit to finish the job. A large capacity flame-thrower tank, on loan from the 5th Division, and Shermans from the 3d Tank Battalion scorched and pounded the last enemy defenses until only sporadic resistance challenged infantrymen as they moved in to finish the task.

By this stage in the operation, a large percentage of infantry troops were replacements who lacked the combat training and experience that prepared and conditioned men for closing with the enemy. Therefore, the skill and efficiency of assault Marines showed marked deterioration after three weeks of personnel attrition of original D-Day troop strength. During the final days of 3d Division efforts to smash remaining pockets, armor support made success possible. Gun tanks, armored bulldozers, and flame-throwing Shermans combined their operations to give the exhausted infantry a very effective and much needed assist.3

With organized resistance almost at an end in the 3d Division zone of action on 15 March, General Schmidt ordered the 3d to relieve elements of the 5th Division on that unit's right (east) flank and to attack to the northwest.4 Early on the 16th, the 1st and 2d Battalions of RCT 21 relieved 3/27 and 2/26. The 21st Marines assumed responsibility for a zone of action about 800 yards wide on the 5th Division's right. The new boundary between divisions passed northwest from a point approixmately 400 yards east of Hill 362B to the northern tip of the island where it bisected Kitano Point. (See Map XVII.)

When RCT 21 jumped off to the north in conjunction with the 5th Division at 0815, 16 March, it moved out behind the last preparation fired for any unit of the 3d Division. Three battalions of the 12th Marines,5 reinforced by 5th Division artillery and the corps 155's, fired from K-minus 20 minutes to K-plus 10 minutes. Artillery commenced the preparation bombardment as close as 50 yards from friendly


front lines and moved forward in 100-yard increments as the attack began.6 The destroyer Healy shelled the northern tip of Iwo for 50 minutes and then stood by to deliver call fires. Eight Army P-51's were ready on Airfield Number 1 to give support if needed, but the restricted area of ground operations permitted no air strikes.7

The 1st Battalion, 21st encountered light opposition in its zone on the right, but the 2d Battalion met stiff resistance from scattered islands of the enemy. Heavy rifle fire and the jagged ground constituted major obstacles to advance. There were few concrete emplacements in this northern zone, but the Japanese defended tenaciously from caves and spider-trap positions in the rough terrain. Occasionally individual enemy soldiers armed with demolition charges and grenades raced out against tanks or groups of Marines but were shot down before they could do any great damage to personnel or equipment. Both battalions reached the coast line at Kitano Point by 1300 and began mopping up. (See Map XVII.)

With the elimination of Cushman's pocket on 16 March and the clearing of this newly acquired zone of action on the same day, the 3d Division announced the end of all enemy resistance in its zone of action.8

The 4th's Last Pocket (D-plus-20--D-plus-25)9

The impressive gains by the 4th Division on 10 March had placed Marines in position to launch a quick drive southeastward to the sea to eliminate the last resistance in the island's eastern bulge. Patrols sent out by the 23d Marines reported little opposition between that unit's front lines and the coast, and the 25th Marines, although encountering stiff resistance at the close of the day, had occupied commanding ground in its zone of action.

The division jumped off at 0730, 11 March with RCT's 23 and 25 abreast, left to right. The 23d pushed rapidly to the coast, overrunning weak enemy resistance to the front and

TANKS AND INFANTRYMEN make a frontal assault against Japanese positions at the base of a rocky ridge in the 5th Division zone of action.


A PORTION OF CUSHMAN'S POCKET, scene of the last organized Japanese resistance in the 3d Division zone of action.

sending strong patrols to cover all beach areas. Engineers followed close behind the advance, working with the infantry to seal caves and push a road forward in the regimental zone. The 1st Battalion relieved 2/23 on the left at 1700, and the regiment pulled back and settled down on the same positions it held the preceding night. This line, about 400 yards from the coast, provided the best ground for control of the area as terrain to the front was characterized by broken ridges and deep fissures.

The 25th Marines could not duplicate the 23d's speedy drive to the sea. Shortly after the jump-off heavy rocket, mortar, and small-arms fire hit assault units on the division's right, and bitter fighting continued in that area throughout the day. Late in the afternoon, a captured Japanese soldier reported that about 300 enemy troops remained in caves and tunnels of the small area of resistance to the front. He told Marine interrogators that this die-hard group had rifles, ammunition, grenades, demolition charges, and plenty of water, but little food. The highlight of this POW's information was that a Japanese major general held out with the troops in the pocket.10

By the end of D-plus-20 it became obvious that this small pocket would be a tough nut to crack. The enemy-held terrain consisted of a series of deep crevices and sharp ridges running


in a generally southeasterly direction toward the coast. Other lesser gullies cut transversely through the area to create a maze of compartments and cross compartments. Rough rocky outcroppings and scrubby vegetation that had survived the fierce bombardments provided excellent cover and concealment to the defenders.11

K-Hour was postponed two hours on 12 March to give intelligence personnel an opportunity for broadcasting a surrender appeal to the enemy general, thought to be Major General Senda, commanding the 2d Mixed Brigade. The POW who supplied the information willingly led a detail of Marines forward to a spot on the front lines near the brigade commander's supposed hideout. For the next two hours the power plant operator tried to start the gasoline engine that provided electricity for the amplifier, and when an alternate motor also failed to run, the project was called off. During the entire time this group received annoying sniper fire that caused one casualty and some damage to equipment. At 0900 the attack continued.12

The 25th Marines jumped off with 2/25, 3/25, and 2/24 on line from left to right. The 2d Battalion, 25th faced southeast across the top of the pocket, and the other two battalions pushed eastward against its west flank. On the opposite side, 3/24, attached to RCT 23, contained the enemy along the regimental boundary. (See Map XVIII.)

The plan of attack called for 2/25 to attack down the draws toward the coast while 3/25 and 2/24 supported the attack by firing bazookas, antitank grenades, and 60mm mortars into the area to their front. Following this general scheme, the regiment slugged it out with the Japanese in the pocket for four days. Tanks operated with caution in supporting the attack because of the danger of hitting friendly troops, but both regular and flame throwing mediums contributed in large measure to the eventual success of the infantry. But as in all actions against a deeply entrenched and determined enemy, it took foot troops with flame throwers, bazookas, rifles, grenades, and demolitions to complete the job. Frequent attempts to persuade the Japanese to give up invariably drew heavy rifle fire, and the fighting went on.

As the operation against the pocket continued, the main core of the resistance developed northwest of the "beach road." This road, or what was left of it, paralleled the east coast from the Boat Basin to Tachiiwa Point about 500 yards inland. Plans were made to send tanks out along the road to positions in rear of the pocket to fire north into the draws in an attempt to knock out hostile mortar positions. To accomplish this, 2/24 with engineers attached, pushed forward from positions astride this road to clear it of mines so that the Shermans could proceed. After they had cleared the wash, infantry and engineers were ordered back as their presence along the road prevented the use of supporting fires by 2/25. The tanks remained and projected streams of flame up the draws with good effect.

On 15 March, Colonel Lanigan, commanding RCT 25, shifted the main pressure against the pocket to the south and directed the skeleton companies of the two battalions in the center of the line to attack regardless of contact. This drive gained 200 yards and penetrated deeply into the left flank of the enemy's strongest positions, paving the way for elimination of the stronghold the next day.

During the night, enemy troops made several attempts to infiltrate Marine lines from the south, but each time the movement was detected and broken up. When the 25th jumped off at 0630 on 16 March, the Japanese fought back with machine guns, rifles, and grenades, but now, without any real organization left, they resisted only in small isolated groups. By 1030 all battalions had cut through to the beach road, and RCT 25 announced complete destruction of all resistance in the pocket.

Although the original location of General Senda's Brigade Headquarters was just east of hill 382, there is little doubt that his final command post was in this area where some 1,500 Japanese troops, both army and navy, defended to the end. The torn and battered terrain and the mangled mass of enemy dead bore grim evidence of the bitterness of the struggle for


this last strong point in the 4th Division's zone of action.13

To Kitano Point (D-plus-20--D-plus-25)14

While the 3d and 4th Divisions were clearing the last defenders from their zones of action, the 5th Division made the corps main effort to the north. On 11 March, following a 50-minute preparation by air, naval gunfire, and the massed fires of 12 artillery battalions, the 28th Marines jumped off on the left with three battalions abreast (2/28, 1/28, and 3/28 left to right), and the 27th, with 1/26 attached, attacked on the right with 1/26, 1/27, 2/27, and 3/27 in line.

Savage resistance forced the fight at point-blank ranges. Heavy supporting weapons were useless as the enemy clung tenaciously to positions close to the front and poured withering machine-gun and rifle fire into the Marine lines. Assault units depended heavily on 37mm guns and 75mm half-tracks of the weapons companies

AMERICAN FLAG FLYING AT NORTH END OF IWO. 5th Division Marines planted the colors on Hill 165 at Kitano Point 25 days after the flag raising on Suribachi.


to blast located enemy weapons, and 7.2-inch rockets were again employed to shock the Japanese into silence. But results were negligible. The battalion mortars and attached 4.5-inch rockets, firing almost continuously as close to the lines as possible, actually rendered the most effective aid.

The 28th Marines inched forward about 30 yards up the gradual slope toward the northwest-southwest ridge line overlooking the gorge to its front. Atop this ridge the Japanese held strong fortifications that commanded all approaches from the southwest, and when Marine bombardment became intolerable they took refuge in caves that honeycombed the steep sides of the gorge.

Bitter fighting produced slightly better gains in RCT 27's zone of action. During the morning, 2/27 was pinched out and became RCT reserve as the 1st and 3d Battalions moved forward. Actually, this unit was so casualty ridden that it could no longer be considered employable and saw no further action as an organized battalion. The 1st Battalion cleaned out a pocket to its front that had been holding up the advance in that zone for five days, and 3/27 seized and held some important high ground after three bloody assaults. On the regiment's left flank 2/26, which had been attached to RCT 28, reverted to parent control and attacked through 1/26 at 1300 for a small gain.

The night was fairly quiet along most of the front, but activity behind the lines of 3/27 became so heavy that company command posts moved up to tie in with their front line platoons for security against grenade-throwing Japanese soldiers who came out of bypassed holes.

The fighting along the division front on 12 March was a repetition of the previous day, with no gains by RCT 28 and only small advances by RCT 27 on the right. The 5th Division intelligence officer estimated that a minimum of 1,000 Japanese troops were defending the northern end of the island, and stated ". . . there is no shortage of manpower, weapons, or ammunition in the area the Japanese have left to defend." The entire northern tip of the island seemed to be honeycombed with caves and passageways. When a 500-pound bomb landed in the mouth of a cave near Kitano Pint, a big puff of smoke blew out the side of a cliff over 400 yards away, and another bomb landing in a cave entrance in the same area caused a ring of smoke and dust to come up through the ground for a radius of 200 yards around the point of impact.15

In the afternoon, Company B, Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific made a water-borne reconnaissance of Kama and Kangoku Rocks off the northwest coast of the island. Platoon leaders and senior noncommissioned officers were carried in 12 vehicles from Company C, 2d Armored Amphibian Battalion, and the company commander and his executive officer made the reconnaissance from an LCI(G). No enemy fire greeted this party as it moved in close to the small islets, and the observers noted no signs of life. When he returned from his mission, the company commander received orders to land on the rocks at 0900, 13 March.16

These landings went off as scheduled without a hitch.17 The landing force consisted of 94 men and six officers divided into ten LCT (landing craft, rubber) teams, and two flame thrower teams that were held in reserve. Fire support was furnished by LVT(A)'s and the LCI(G) with the executive officer of the reconnaissance company acting as gunfire officer. The commander of the company was in over-all command of the operation. Landing first on Kama Rock and then Kangoku, Marines swept the islets without encountering any opposition. Evidence pointed to the fact that Japanese had been on the larger (Kangoku) rock several weeks before. A few barricaded caves and


stone emplacements were located, but no equipment was found. The second rock was declared secure at 1024, and the little landing force returned to its bivouac area on Iwo Jima. The next day, Company B was detached from VAC and ordered to report back to the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.18

The 5th Division continued its pressure against the ridge above the gorge and carved out small gains on the right, but with tank support limited by the rough terrain and heavy weapons unable to fire close to the lines, the going was slow and tough. Companies were reduced to platoon size, and the few veteran Marines remaining were exhausted. The majority of experienced and aggressive small unit leaders had long since been evacuated or killed, and while replacements were courageous and willing, they lacked the ability that comes only through experience.

By 14 March it appeared that the slow, tortuous progress of the past three days had carried the 27th Marines through the last strong enemy positions along the northeastern side of the island. The most practical direction of attack was now from east to west paralleling the ridge lines that ran from the center of the island to the coast. Reorienting itself to this new situation, the 5th Division ordered RCT 28 to hold in its zone of action while RCT 27, on the right, swung toward the west. In the center of the division line, RCT 26 took over a two battalion front and attacked north with 3/26 and 2/26 abreast. (See Map XIX.)

Compared to other days, enemy opposition was light on 14 and 15 March, and RCT 27 and the right battalion (2/26) of the 26th Marines gained up to 1,000 yards during the 2-day period. After armored dozers hacked paths forward, tanks were able to lend support. The flame tanks were particularly effective during this phase and provided "the one weapon that caused the Japanese to leave their caves and rock crevices and run."19

Army planes flew the last air support missions of the operation on 14 March when five P-51's dropped fire bombs (gasoline and diesel oil mixture) and strafed in front of 3/27 from 1030 to 1100.20 From then on, the narrow confines of the area of operations prevented use of those planes that had performed so well in supporting ground troops. Artillery and destroyers continued to furnish limited support, firing a preparation for RCT 26 on 15 March and performing night harassing and illumination missions.

The official flag raising on Iwo Jima took place at VAC Headquarters at 0930, 14 March, two days before the island was declared secured. In a short ceremony attended by flag and general officers of the fleet and landing force, U.S. Navy Military Government of the Volcano Islands Proclamation Number 1 was read. The flag that had flown over Suribachi since D-plus-4 was removed when the official flag went up at VAC Headquarters. Following this ceremony, the Commander Expeditionary Troops and his staff left Iwo Jima by air.21

When the 3d Division passed through RCT 27 on 16 March and took over a zone of action on the 5th's right, the remaining enemy opposition centered in two areas: the steep draw that ran northwest to the sea across the front of RCT 28, and a strong core of resistance in front of RCT 26, just east of that draw. (See Map XIX.)

The 28th Marines (less 3/28), with the 4th Pioneer Battalion attached, was now to hold positions along the ridge southwest of the draw and support RCT 26 (3/28 attached) by fire as that regiment attacked northwest to overcome the strong point to its front and bottle up enemy remnants in the deep ravine.

Following the last artillery preparation of the campaign, RCT 26 moved out slowly. Infantrymen advanced cautiously until they drew fire, then armored dozers tore a path through the rocky terrain so that flame tanks could roast hostile positions. As the Shermans neutralized these positions, the infantry inched ahead. Engineers then came up and demolished the battered enemy emplacements. In this area east of the gorge, the number of caves encountered diminished as Marines moved north, but the number of cleverly concealed spider foxholes


THE BATTLE FOR THE GORGE was fought over terrain such as this. In this picture a Marine light machine-gun squad moves up to join in the final battle.


increased, and Japanese fire from close ranges remained deadly.

Although RCT 26 did not make as great an advance as RCT 21 on its right (that unit pushed all the way to the northern tip of the island in its zone of action), it did gain 400 yards and further compressed the Japanese into the western part of Kitano Point and the deep draw to the southwest. (See Map XIX.)

Battle for the Gorge (D-plus-26--D-plus-34)22

At 1800, on 16 March, 26 days and nine hours after the first Marine landed on Iwo Jima, the island was declared secured. The only remaining resistance came from the western half of Kitano Point and the draw to the southwest. In this gorge, approximately 500 die-hard enemy troops continued a more or less organized defense for another nine days.

Attacking on 17 March to clear the remaining enemy from Kitano Point, the 26th Marines gained rapidly. The 1st Battalion advanced against moderate rifle fire and reached the north coast at 1230. The battalion then turned its front southwestward to drive against the gorge in front of RCT 28. The 3d Battalion, 26th and the 3d battalion of the 28th registered some slight gains against the northeastern edge of the pocket.

The gorge in which the last resisting Japanese were now cornered was rocky and steep-sided, approximately 700 yards long and between 200 and 500 yards wide. Rock outcrops cut this ravine into other minor draws that constituted major obstacles to all types of movement. The entire area was ideally suited to the type of last ditch defense the enemy had adopted. All routes into the main gorge were swept by heavy and accurate fire from machine guns and rifles concealed in cave positions in the cliffs and outcrops.

The plan for attacking this strong point called for RCT 28, with attached elements of the 5th Pioneer Battalion and Division Reconnaissance Company, to hold the southern rim along the steep cliffs, while RCT 26, with 3/28 and 3/27, worked in from the north and east. For the next nine days exhausted Marines carried out a battle of attrition against the thoroughly entrenched enemy. Advances into the east end of the ravine were measured in yards as each cave had to be sealed off before further progress could be made. Flame-thrower tanks, armored bulldozers, and infantry combined operations to provide the power and teamwork necessary to penetrate the last stronghold.

After its relief by RCT 21 on 16 March, RCT 27 reorganized its depleted units into three battalions of two rifle companies and one headquarters company each. Then at 1700, Companies A and D were attached to the 3d Battalion and that unit was constituted as a composite battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Donn J. Robertson. This consisted of a headquarters and four rifle companies, numbered 470 men, and was attached to RCT 26 on 19 March. The 27th Marines, less the Composite Battalion, remained in division reserve during the remainder of the operation, mopping up rear areas and making preparations to leave the island.

As the Marines drove slowly but relentlessly down the ravine, resistance became centered around a huge concrete structure built into a knoll near the eastern end. This igloo-shaped installation was surrounded by mutually supporting caves and absolutely impervious to 75mm tank shelling and demolition attempts with 40-pound shaped charges. After two days of assault during which Marines silenced the supporting positions, engineers with bulldozers sealed a door on the north side and then demolished the structure using five charges totaling 8,500 pounds of explosives.

The battle of attrition continued, and by 1800 on 24 March (D-plus-33), the pocket had been reduced to an area about 50 by 50 yards at the northwest (seacoast) end of the draw. The following morning, units of RCT 28, which had assumed full responsibility for the pocket, reached the coastal cliffs to eliminate the last vestige of resistance in the gorge. This had been a weird phase of the campaign, as aptly recounted in the 5th Division's report of the operation:


In attacking these positions, no Japanese were to be seen, all being in caves or crevices in the rocks and so disposed as to give an all-around interlocking, ghost-like defense to each small compartment. Attacking troops were subjected to fire from flanks and rear more than from their front. It was always difficult and often impossible to locate exactly where defensive fires originated. The field of fire of the individual Japanese defender in his cave position was often limited to an arc of 10° or less, conversely he was protected from fire except that coming back on this arc. The Japanese smokeless, flashless powder for small arms, always advantageous, was of particular usefulness here. When the position was overrun or threatened, the enemy retreated further into his caves where he usually was safe from gunfire, only to pop out again as soon as the occasion warranted unless the cave was immediately blown.23

Last Days

The Japanese defenders fought stubbornly and well to the end, preferring death to surrender, but the Marines made repeated attempts to induce them to give up. Some propaganda leaflets were dropped from planes and fired in artillery shells, but the most frequently used method was voice appeals. Language officers, Nisei (Japanese-Americans), and POW volunteers participated in this last form of persuasion. Out of 65 POW's who had some contact with United States propaganda, 53 were influenced and gave themselves up as a direct result. The remaining 12 stated that fear of their own officers and of trickery on the part of the Marines

SURRENDER APPEAL is made by Japanese-language officer after grenade dropped into the cave entrance had no effect.


had deterred them. These last did not surrender, but were captured under other circumstances.24

Of all Marine propaganda attempts, the most elaborate was General Erskine's effort to get a message to Colonel Ikeda. Believing that General Kuribayashi might feel himself personally committed against surrender, the 3d Division Commander addressed an appeal to the commanding officer of the 145th Infantry Regiment, elements of which were known to be defending the Kitano sector.

This message was entrusted to two POW's, former privates in the 145th Regiment, who claimed to know the location of the Japanese colonel's command post. In addition to cigarettes and rations, the two Japanese emissaries were equipped with a walkie-talkie (SCR-536) radio with which they were to maintain contact with "Smith-Chui," the 3d Division Language Section.

The pair of volunteers made several contacts with groups of Japanese soldiers as they picked their way over the rough terrain toward the objective but did not desert their mission. After a few transmissions during the morning, the Japanese couriers discontinued use of the radio for fear it might jeopardize their security. One of them stopped to rest his wounded leg, but the other continued the journey. Six hours after starting the trip, the leader of the expedition succeeded in reaching Ikeda's cave where he gave General Erskine's message to one of the headquarters guards for delivery to the colonel. Half an hour later the guard returned with information that he had given the letter to the regimental commander who muttered something about conferring with the general. When the POW heard this he beat a quick retreat from the cave and rejoined his companion.

Breaking radio silence for the first time since morning, the two contacted "Smith-Chui," reporting that they were on the way back. They deviated somewhat from the original plan and re-entered the Marine lines in the 5th Division zone of action at 1830. Although they had no trouble surrendering themselves they did experience considerable difficulty in explaining what two Japanese were doing with a walkie-talkie. The set was taken away from them but subsequently returned to the 3d Division.

Nothing ever came of this expedition, and whether or not the message ever reached Colonel Ikeda will never be known. But interrogation of the POW's on their return brought out some interesting information. They reported that General Kuribayashi and his staff had joined Ikeda in the latter's cave on March 16. From this cave the enemy still had radio communication with Chichi Jima. They also stated that the troops contacted during their trip realized their hopeless situation, but that the enemy morale was excellent. The POW's believed this was probably due to the presence of high ranking officers in the area.25

Interrogation of other POW's corroborated this information and indicated further that Captain Inoue, the Iwo Naval Land Force Commander, had been killed on 8 March near Higashi, and that Major General Senda, the brigade commander, committed suicide at his headquarters on 14 March. The other senior Japanese officers, Kuribayashi, Admiral Ichimaru, and Ikeda were reported alive together in the cave near the southeast end of the gorge on 18 March.26

Major Horie, Kuribayashi's Chichi Jima detachment commander, tried to communicate with the general on 17 march to inform him that Japanese Imperial Headquarters had promoted him to full general, but the message was not acknowledged. Then on the 21st, Chichi Jima received a message from Iwo, "We have not eaten nor drunk for five days. But our fighting spirit is still running high. We are going to fight bravely till the last."

After a silence of almost three days, Hori's radio crackled again and his operator brought him another message, "All officers and men of


SOLDIERS OF THE 147TH INFANTRY (USA) assumed full responsibility for the ground defense of Iwo on 4 April. During the months of April and May this unit killed 1,602 Japanese and took 867 prisoners. (Army Photo)

Chichi Jima, goodbye." This was the last word from the Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima.27

It is probable that Kuribayashi died or committed hara-kiri in the gorge, but there were reports that he and other senior officers led a Japanese breakout early on 26 March. This attack was not a banzai charge; instead it appeared to have been a well-laid plan aimed at creating maximum confusion and destruction. About 0515, 200 to 300 Japanese moved down from the north along the west side of the island and attacked Marine and Army bivouacs near the western beaches. A confused battle raged for three hours with VII Fighter Command units hard hit but recovering from their initial surprise to fight back. The 5th Pioneer Battalion formed a hasty battle line and stopped the attack, accounting for 196 of the enemy. This force was well armed with both Japanese and United States weapons. Forty carried swords, indicating that a high percentage were officers and senior noncommissioned officers, but


examination of bodies and documents failed to support the rumor that Kuribayashi was among them.28

As soon as Marine units could be released, they commenced re-embarkation The 4th Division was first to load out, beginning on 14 March, completing the happy task on the 19th, and sailing for Maui the same day. Units of the 5th Division began loading on 18 March and departed Iwo, in convoy with corps units, on 27 March, headed for Hawaii.

The 3d Marine Division (less 3d Marines) took over patrol and defense responsibilities from the other divisions as they moved out and conducted patrols and established night ambushes throughout the island. The patrols varied in size from one squad to a reinforced platoon and used tanks and, on one occasion, naval gunfire provided by a destroyer to support their operations.

The 147th Infantry (USA), which was to take over the defense of Iwo, arrived from New Caledonia on 20 March and was attached to the 3d Division for operational control. By the 24th, units of Colonel Robert F. Johnson's regiment had taken over responsibility for the 21st Marines' sector and were providing most of the ambushes and patrols elsewhere.

The capture and occupation phase of the Iwo Jima operation was announced completed at 0800, 26 March and the Commander Forward Area, Central Pacific, assumed responsibility for the defense and development of Iwo Jima. At the same time, Major General James E. Chaney, USA, took over operational control of all units stationed on the island, and Brigadier General Ernest Moore, USA, assumed the designation of Air Defense Commander. General Schmidt, who had commanded the largest Marine tactical force ever to engage an enemy, closed his command post and left Iwo by air at 1330. The VAC Headquarters embarked on the USS President Monroe.

Units of the 3d Division began loading out on 27 March when the 21st Marines and the division command post moved on board ship. Other units of the division embarked as ships carrying garrison elements to Iwo became available. On 4 April, the 147th assumed full responsibility for ground defense and the 9th Marines moved down to WHITE Beach, ready for loading out. The last unit left on 12 April, arriving at Guam on 18 April.

That the Japanese defense continued stubborn and effective until the end is evident from the casualty figures. During 16 days of the final phase (11-26 March) and the eight additional days while 3d Division units were mopping up and patrolling, Marine losses increased by 3,885 to bring the total for the operation to 25,851.29 A breakdown of these figures for the final phase is shown below:

  Third Fourth Fifth
Killed in action 147 139 467
Died of wounds 60 87 168
Wounded in action 505 442 1,640
Missing in action     3
Combat fatigue 53 52 122
Total 765 720 2,400
Grand total 3,885

Just what percentage of the Japanese defense force had become casualties by this time is not known, but as of 26 March only 216 prisoners of war had been taken.30 In April and May, however, aggressive patrol and ambush activity by the 147th Infantry netted 867 prisoners and 1,602 Japanese killed.31


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1. Unless otherwise cited, material in this section is based on the following: 3d MarDiv SAR, Pt III; 9th Mar SAR; 12 Mar SAR; 21st Mar SAR; 3d TkBn SAR.

2. VAC OpRpt, 60; 3d MarDiv SAR, 18; 3d TkBn SAR, Pt III, 9.

3. 9th Mar SAR, Encl B, 4.

4. VAC OpOrder No 23-45 w/changes, 15Mar45.

5. 3/12 commenced embarkation on 16 March and was not available. 3d MarDiv G-3 Periodic Rpt No 31, 16Mar45.

6. Ltr LtCol T.R. Belzer to CMC, 22Apr53.

7. 3d MarDiv OpOrder 23-45, 15Mar45; 3d MarDiv G-3 Rpt No 31, 16Mar45.

8. 3d MarDiv G-3 Periodic Rpt No 31, 16Mar45.

9. Unless otherwise cited, material in this section is based on the following: 4th MarDiv OpRpt, Sec. IV; 14th Mar OpRpt: 23d Mar OpRpt; 24th Mar OpRpt; 25th Mar OpRpt; 4th TkBn OpRpt.

10. 4th MarDiv D-2 Periodic Rpt No 68, 11Mar45.

11. 4th MarDiv D-2 Periodic Rpt No 69, 12Mar45.

12. Ibid.

13. 4th MarDiv D-2 Periodic Rpt No 73, 16Mar45.

14. Unless otherwise cited, material in this section is based on the following: 5th MarDiv SAR, Sec. VIII; 13th Mar SAR; 26th Mar SAR; 27th Mar SAR; 28th Mar SAR; 5th TkBn SAR.

15. C-2 Periodic Rpt No 22, 12Mar45.

16. Company B, Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, FMFPac, Action Report, Iwo Jima Operation, 29Mar45, 3. This unit was attached to VAC for the Iwo operation.

17. Occupation of Kama and Kangoku received serious consideration both during the planning stage of the operation and after the landing. The rocks were not seized earlier because American troops posted there would have been extremely vulnerable to observed enemy fire from the much higher elevation of northern Iwo Jima. Also, because these islands were low in the water they provided no advantage of observation. Ltr LtGen E.A. Craig (Ret) to CMC, 6Apr53.

18. Ibid.

19. 5th MarDiv SAR, 27.

20. VAC Air Rpt, Appendix 3, 7.

21. TF 56 OpRpt, 10, 11.

22. This narrative of the battle for the gorge is based on the following: 5th MarDiv SAR, Sec VIII; 26th Mar SAR; 27th Mar SAR; 28th Mar SAR.

23. 5th MarDiv IntelRpt, 27.

24. VAC IntelRpt, 19, 20.

25. The foregoing account of Erskine's attempt to communicate with Ikeda is based on the following sources: 3d MarDiv Supplemental Interrogation Rpt of POW No 69, 19Mar45; C-2 Periodic Rpt No 28, 18Mar45.

26. C-2 Periodic Rpt No 29, 19Mar45; 5th MarDiv Japanese Language Section, Preliminary POW Interrogation Rpt No 36, 18Mar45; 5th MarDiv D-2 Periodic Rpt No 26, 19Mar45; 3d MarDiv POW Identification Card, 21st Mar Prisoner No 83, 20Mar45.

27. Horie, 12.

28. The 5th Pioneers suffered nine killed and 31 wounded in this action and VII Fighter Command units lost 44 killed and 88 wounded. C-3 Periodic Rpt No. 35, 26Mar45; 5th MarDiv SAR, Annex W, 2.

29. For more detailed casualty figures see Appendix III.

30. C-2 Periodic Report No 35, 9Apr45.

31. Headquarters 147th Infantry Regiment, Report of Operations Against the Enemy, Iwo Jima, 11Jun45.

Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation