Traction in the Black Sand
For the complete official histories of the Iwo Jima campaign, see HyperWar.
Iwo Jima translated means Sulphur Island, an appropriate name because of sulphur deposits just below the surface all over the island. During much of its history It was a desolate, sparsely populated spot of land whose inhabitants scratched a bare living from sugar and sulphur refining and farming in the sub-tropical climate. It is geologically a new island, thrust up from the ocean floor as the visible tip of a volcano now inactive. The island's volcanic origin also gave its beaches black sand, sand that was to be burned into the memory of thousands of Marines who were to attack Iwo Jima during February 1945.
Iwo Jima is part of the Bonin Islands which in turn are part of a larger grouping of islands known to the Japanese as the Nanpo Shoto. This chain stretches from Tokyo Bay south for a distance of 750 miles, coming to within 300 miles of the Marianas Islands. Few of these islands were militarily important when World War II opened, but Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima became of the utmost importance as planners looked beyond the Marianas. Chichi Jima was the primary harbor in the Bonins but was too rugged for extensive airfields. By contrast, Iwo Jima had no significant harbor but possessed a plateau suitable for extensive airfield construction. In 1943, one airfield had been completed by the Japanese and twenty aircraft were stationed there.1 Two additional airfields were also constructed, but by July 1944, most of the island's air complement had
been destroyed by American Attacks.2
The strategic significance of Iwo Jima crystallized with the progress of the war. On 12 August 1944, the Joint War Planning Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a plan for the seizure of the Bonins which listed the operation as desirable to provide fighter cover for bomber operations against Japan, to deny the strategic outposts to the enemy, to provide air defenses for positions in the Marianas, and to provide air fields for staging bombers against Japan.3 During this period and after, final reviews were taking place on possible attacks on Formosa or the China Coast, as the terminal operations of the Central Pacific Drive. It was determined by Admiral Nimitz that both operations were of questionable value since forces of the size required were not available, and the seizure of Iwo Jima and Okinawa--for which suitable forces were available--would accomplish substantially the same objectives. Admirals Nimitz and King conferred over this situation and King, as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, proposed to that body the seizure of Okinawa and Iwo Jima. On 3 October 1944, the JCS accepted Admiral King's proposal and issued the directive which guided the Pacific War to its conclusion. It provided for the capture of Luzon in the Philippines by 20 December 1944, the acquisition of Iwo Jima by 20 January 1945, and the seizure of Okinawa by 1 March 1945.4 General Holland M. Smith, Commanding General of the newly-created Fleet Marine Force Pacific command, received word from Admiral Nimitz on 9 October 1944 that Iwo Jima would definitely be the objective for the next Central Pacific attack.5
The overall commander for Iwo Jima was Admiral Raymond A. Spruance and General Smith himself was designated Commander of Expeditionary Troops. The Marine forces immediately available for the operation were the 3rd,
4th, and 5th Marine Divisions, which were assigned to the Fifth (V) Amphibious Corps, commanded by General Harry Schmidt, Smith's immediate subordinate in the chain of command and commander of the landing forces. With the designation of the forces available, the LVT picture was also set. The 2nd Armored Amtrac Battalion, with sixty-eight LVT(A)(4)s would provide the armored amtrac support. Four battalions of cargo amtracs, the 3rd, 5th, 10th and 11th, would provide the troop-carrying amtracs for the landing and subsequent logistics support. These battalions were equipped with the LVT(2) and the LVT(4) plus the latest modifications. A new cargo amphibian was in production, but it was not available for Iwo Jima. The new LVT(3) would be used for the first time on Okinawa.
At the time of designation, the experienced 3rd Marine Division was on Guam reorganizing after its capture of that island. The 4th Marine Division, veteran of Roi-Namur, Saipan, and Tinian, had just returned to its camp site on the island of Maui. Although the new 5th Division would see combat for the first time, It was composed of veterans who had served with other divisions and who spread the hard lessons of combat among the new recruits. The 5th Division embarked for Hawaii during August 1944 and made its camp there on the big island. Because all major planning staffs in the chain of command were in the area of the Hawaiian Islands, except the 3rd Marine Division in Guam, planning was greatly facilitated as was completion of the details of what was to be the Corps' toughest fight.
While American planning was underway, the Japanese were harboring no Illusions about the fate of Iwo Jima. They were well-aware that the island was only three hours flying time from Tokyo and was suitable for development as a major air base. The island also held special significance for the Japanese people who claimed Iwo Jima by right of colonization as
early as 1593 when it was first discovered by the Japanese explorer Sadayori Ogasawara.6 The Marines were literally attacking Japanese soil In the inner defense ring of the Empire.
The work to fortify Iwo Jima began in earnest during the invasion of the Marshalls. The Japanese high command could see that the Carolines- Marianas defense line was in danger and the inner defense ring had to e strengthened to gain time to prepare the homeland for the expected invasion. By April 1944, the strength of Iwo Jima had climbed to 5,000 Army troops with thirteen artillery pieces, 200 light and heavy machine guns, fourteen 120 mm coast defense guns, twelve heavy anti-aircraft guns, and thirty 25 mm dual mount anti-aircraft guns.7 In May the Emperor appointed a new commander of the island defense forces, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, a tough martinet who had served in Manchuria and who commanded the Imperial Guards prior to his appointment. Kuribayashi had a keen appreciation of American Military potential opposing him because as a captain he had served as an attaché in the United States for two years in the late 1920s. During this period he had written in a letter to his wife:
The United States is the last country in the world that Japan should fight. Its industrial potentiality is huge and fabulous, and the people are energetic and versatile. One must never underestimate the American's fighting ability.8
When Tojo gave Kuribayashi command, he emphasized that the eyes of the entire nation were focused on Iwo Jima.9
The new commander arrived on the island during June 1944, in time to witness heavy air attacks that reduced his aircraft complement to near zero. Kuribayashi's ideas on the defense of the island were derived from observation of the futility of past Japanese attempts to defend the beachhead and to attempt banzai counterattacks that wasted lives. His approach
was to construct defenses not at the water's edge where they would be destroyed by naval gunfire, but in depth throughout the island. The beaches were to be defended by sighting weapons to fire along the long axis of the beach and emplacing only some infantry and automatic weapons at scattered strongpoints along the shore. Further, Kuribayashi issued directives against the fanatical suicide counterattacks because even though it was to be a defense to the death, he would conduct it to exact the maximum loss of American life, and that meant staying in position rather than charging the Americans. His measures were controversial, but he had his way.
To conduct a prolonged defense of the island, construction of the heaviest fortifications were required to withstand bombs and naval gunfire. Kuribayashi had witnessed American air attacks and was determined to burrow underground for protection and build the toughest pillboxes possible above ground for his guns. Concrete of superior quality was possible when the volcanic ash of the island was mixed with cement and walls were as much as four-feet thick of reinforced concrete. Sand was piled In front of some positions for as much as fifty feet for additional protection. The pillboxes were relatively blind with narrow fields of fire and small openings for additional protection of the inhabitants, but the large number of positions overcame this limitation.10 The main communications center for this vast fortification called Iwo Jima was a mammoth room seventy-five feet underground that measured 150 feet long by seventy feet wide with a roof ten feet thick and walls fives feet thick, and twenty radios with operators on every two to three radios.11 If the Americans wanted to kill the Japanese, it was Kuribayashi's intention that American bombs and naval gunfire would not be the instruments of death.
The American Marine with his rifle would personally have to come and get them.
American intelligence concerning this activity was initially derived primarily from aerial photographs and captured Japanese maps from the Saipan campaign. However, unlike the aerial photo scarcity encountered before Saipan, Navy photographic squadrons proceeded to amass aerial photos with no fewer than 371 sorties over the island to take pictures. This excellent coverage resulted in the creation of a photo map of great detail on 6 December 1944, and even this was updated with later photographic coverage. Close-in photographic coverage of the beach areas was provided by submarines and beach studies were conducted which indicated that the traction in the loose sand would be difficult even for men. Only tracked vehicles were expected to move effectively. American intelligence noted that defenses were sited to repel the invasion once it had landed and discerned one of the two main lines of defense which stretched the entire width of the island. American experts could tell it was going to be a tough fight, but they made two significant errors. The first was the underrating of Japanese strength on the island by estimating 13,000 to 14,000 personnel while the real figure lay between 21,000 and 23,000. This underestimation was due to the excellent camouflage employed by the Japanese which masked their true defensive strength to aerial photographs. The second error was that intelligence analysts felt the Japanese would repeat their past tactics of attempting to throw the invasion back into the sea at the water's edge by concentrated fire of all available weapons and banzai counterattacks.12 This view was supported by the past defensive lines, clues that the toughest battle would be inland and after the landing rather than at the beach. It would be a rude shock when the
Japanese later coolly remained silent during the early phases of the landings and then opened fire with devastating effect after the landing had moved inland some distance.
Against this formidable island the Marines planned to employ 70,647 assault troops, augmented by Army garrison troops and naval personnel assigned to shore duty in construction and beach logistics, bringing the expeditionary force up to 111,308 men.13 The ship-to-shore landing movement for this massive effort was to be spearheaded by LVTs. The first five waves of the landing would use 400 LVTs carrying eight battalions of the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions onto the southeastern beaches of Iwo Jima. The cargo tractors would be preceded by a wave of sixty-eight LVT(A)(4)s of the 2nd Armored Amtrac Battalion who in turn would be preceded by LCI gunboats firing rockets and 40 mm machine guns. The Iwo Jima plans gave primary emphasis to heavy gun power in the first wave by placing the LVT(A)(4)s in line formation so each vehicle could have maximum freedom of fire with its 75 mm howitzer and machine guns. The LVT(A)(4)s were to land and proceed inland for a short distance to assist the assault troops. Troop tractors were to land and discharge their troops at the beach and return to sea for logistics duties. The line of departure for this landing was 4,000 yards offshore and a thirty-minute run was expected. Interval between waves of LVTs was to be 250-300 yards.14 The net width of the landing beaches for the two assault divisions was 3,500 yards, which put an armored amtrac every fifty yards as the first wave approached the beach. It was a planned power punch.
The scheme of maneuver once ashore was simple. The 4th and 5th Marine Divisions would land abreast with the 3rd Marine Division in Reserve, the 5th on the left. The extreme left-hand regiment of the 5th was the 28th
Marine Regiment led by Colonel Harry "The Horse" Liversedge, who was famous for his outstanding combat leadership in the Munda campaign in the Solomons. This regiment was to attack straight across the narrow neck of land and then turn southwest to take Mount Suribachi. It was this regiment that was later to have the honor of staging the most famous combat picture of World War II, the flag raising on Mount Suribachi. Other regiments of the division were to attack forward, then turn right and attack northeast up the long axis of the island. The 3rd Marine Division was to land over the same beaches about three days after D-Day (D+3) and move into the center between the 4th and 5th Marine Division. Both the 4th and 5th Tank Battalions would land on call over their parent division's beaches for support in the early phases of the landing because It was anticipated that the tanks' firepower would be needed to get the troops off the beach quickly.
A significant point should be noted here with respect to the use of LVTs at Iwo Jima. The island rose steeply out of the sea and the beaches were open to the full force of the sea, complete with pounding surf; there was no offshore reef. Therefore, one of the primary motives for using the LVT in the assault mode was not present at Iwo Jima. At Tarawa, the Marshalls, and Saipan, the fringing reef around the islands necessitated the LVT to land the attacking waves of troops, but at Iwo Jima there were other requirements. Even though intelligence experts underestimated the size of the enemy garrison and were not able to foresee the change of Japanese tactics, they did predict a tough fight, and judging from past Japanese practice, they expected it at the beach. Analysts considered the armored protection of the LVT and the firepower of the armored amtrac to be absolutely necessary to get the troops ashore against the anticipated
Map 15. Landing Plan, Iwo Jima.
resistance. Further, beach studies conducted by daring Underwater Demolitions Teams of the Navy (UDTs) under the very noses of the defenders, revealed that the sand on the beaches would be loose and hard going for wheeled vehicles but tractors would manage more easily.15 This consideration favored the use of LVTs not only to land the troops, but also to establish the early logistics effort until surfaced roads could be laid in the loose sand. The decision to, use LVTs at Iwo Jima was to prove right on both counts.
However, before any troops could be landed in the LVTs and before troops could be expected to stay on the beaches, it was clear that Iwo Jima had to be thoroughly softened by bombardment. Iwo Jima received the most intensive and prolonged preparation given any objective in the Pacific in World War II.16 The initial phase began on 8 December 1944, with B-24 bombers and Marine B-25 bombers striking the Bonin Islands for seventy-four consecutive days from high level with bombs with Iwo Jima receiving special attention. It should be noted that on 18 November D-Day was postponed from the original 20 January 1945 date set by JCS to 3 February 1945, and on 6 December 1944 it was moved to 19 February. Both adjustments were made due to the lack of naval forces which were still engaged in unexpectedly tough fighting in the Philippine Islands under MacArthur.17 These postponements allowed greater time for preparation by the bombers which were attempting to neutralize the airfield, destroy fixed gun positions, and unmask additional targets. These raids used large numbers of 100-pound bombs and fragmentation bombs and were not Intended to destroy the heavier bunkers and pillboxes. They did, however, destroy anti-aircraft positions, disrupt communications, and finally neutralize the airfield.18 The Japanese found it necessary to
detail 2,000 men, with as many as fifty men to a bomb crater, to keep the airfield active and on 2 January 1945, used 624 men, eleven trucks, three rollers, and two bulldozers for twelve hours to put airfield number 1 back into working order.19 This effort was not enough and operations appear to have ceased on 3 January 1945. A captured list of aircraft using airfield number 1 shows two aircraft landing there on 3 January; there is no record of their ever having departed.20 Despite their success against the airfield, the bombers did not achieve substantial destruction of heavier gun positions and pillboxes. On 9 February 1945, additional photo coverage of Iwo Jima showed the number of heavy installations of all types had actually increased!21 The lightweight bombs and the inability of the high-level bomber to achieve pin-point accuracy against small, hardened pillboxes, resulted in negligible impacts that threw the burden of destruction on naval gunfire and eventually on the ultimate weapon, the Marine rifleman.
Naval gunfire for Iwo Jima was an area of controversy. General Holland M. Smith, the Expeditionary Troops Commander, fought for additional naval gunfire preparation above and beyond that recommended by the Navy. Smith had seen the results of inadequate preparation at Tarawa and Saipan and did not want a repetition on a target as tough as Iwo Jima. As he later explained:
My own study of early air photographs indicated that a situation of an incredible nature existed on the island. It was plain that Iwo Jima had fortifications the like and extent of which we had never encountered. Mindful of Tarawa, where most of the fortifications were above ground and were still standing when the Marine landed, my opinion was that far more naval gunfire was needed on an island five times the size of Tarawa, with many more times the number of defenses, most of them deep underground.
I could not forget the sight of Marines floating in the lagoon or lying on the beaches at Tarawa, men who died assaulting defenses which should have been taken out by naval gunfire. At Iwo Jima, the problem was far more difficult. If naval guns could not knock out visible defenses, how could they smash invisible defenses except by sheer superabundance of fire?22
The first request forwarded by General Schmidt, Commander of the Landing Force, and strongly backed by General Smith, was for a preparation of ten days' duration by a cruiser division and three battleships.23 The Navy, however, had planned a supporting attack, the first by carrier aircraft, against the Japanese aircraft industry on the mainland, a target so far untouched. Admiral Spruance's concern was that a prolonged bombardment at Iwo Jima offered the Japanese an opportunity to attack the amphibious task force from the mainland (only three hours away) using the feared Kamikaze tactics that did such great damage in the Philippines. The American carrier strike against the Japanese mainland also required the services of two new, powerfully armed, fast battleships, the North Carolina and the Washington, which were diverted from duty at Iwo Jima to escort the carrier force because both ships had the latest in anti-aircraft installations, a high-priority requirement in view of the suspected Kamikaze threat.24 The net result was the Navy's firm decision to bombard Iwo Jima for no more than three days, even after General Schmidt proposed a four-day preparation in a subsequent discussion. It should be noted here that the Navy was further faced with conflicting strategic requirements because the same ships firing on Iwo Jima would also be delivering fires on Okinawa a short time later. This forced the ships to conserve ammunition because a prolonged bombardment would have exhausted their magazines with insufficient time to resupply and still meet the timetable for Okinawa which involved seven days of firing before D-Day on 1 April 1945.
Naval gunfire support at Iwo Jima prior to D-Day was executed by a force of four battleships, four heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and sixteen destroyers, an insufficient force in view of the 724 priority A and B targets identified for destruction. Priority A targets threatened ships, aircraft, and UDT operations while priority B concerned threats to the landing force in its movement to shore. The bombardment commenced at 8:00 A.M. but unfavorable low clouds and poor visibility limited the effectiveness of the first day's firing. The second day was marked by Japanese unwillingness to withhold their fire completely as directed by their commander, General Kuribayashi, and a heavy exchange took place during covering operations in support of a UDT beach reconnaissance. The battleship Nevada, closing to point-blank range at 3,000 yards, had four men wounded from Japanese fire while the cruiser Pensacola, closing to 1,500 yards, took successive hits from a 150 mm gun which destroyed her command center, catapult airplane, and holed her hull. She withdrew with seventeen killed and 120 wounded, but the gallant ship stayed on station at a greater range and continued to fire in support of the UDT effort, ceasing fire only when surgical operations were underway or for blood transfusions. Further heavy casualties were taken by crews of twelve LCI gunboats assisting the UDT swimmers by supplying fire support from 1,000 yards out. During a forty-five minute exchange with heavy caliber Japanese guns, all twelve were damaged, one capsized and sank, and a total of seven crewmen were killed and 153 wounded. While these battles raged, the UDT swimmers managed to accomplish their mission with the loss of only one man. The UDT discovered no underwater minefields or underwater obstructions.25
The opposition experienced by the bombardment force on the second day
did not inspire optimism; indeed, gloom prevailed. For the third and last day of preparation, Admiral Blandy, commander of the task force provided the naval gunfire support, approved a Marine recommendation that all available firepower be concentrated on the beaches. The ships closed to 2,500 yards, but unfavorable weather again interfered and results were less than desired. The overall assessment of the effort is inescapable. As ominously understated by Isely and Crawl, the preparation was "inadequate".26
Weather on the morning of D-Day was clear and calm, with unlimited visibility. Although some consideration was given to continuing naval bombardment for a fourth day, Admiral Blandy, concerned that weather would deteriorate and jeopardize the ship-to-shore movement, stayed firm on a three-day preparation bombardment. At 6:40 A.M. on 19 February, the pre-H-Hour bombardment began. H-Hour was set for 9:00 A.M. The battleships North Carolina and Washington, having returned from the raid on Japan, joined the bombardment, raising the total battleship count to six firing in support of the landing. In addition to the big ships, forty-two LCI gunboats fitted with 4.5-inch and 5-inch rockets, and 4.2-inch mortars began firing at 7:30 A.M. Almost 10,000 rockets were launched during the pre-H-Hour bombardment.27 The signal to commence landing was given at 7:25 A.M. and in twenty minutes 400 tractors carrying the eight assault battalions were in the water and moving to rendezvous areas to form into waves as the pounding of the beaches continued. At 8:05 A.M., naval gunfire ceased and 120 fighters and bombers from the carriers, Including twenty-four F41J Corsairs, a powerful fighter-bomber of Marine Fighter Squadron 124, swarmed to the attack with rockets, napalm, and machine guns. Pilots were given clear orders for this run from the
Deputy Air Commander Landing Force, Colonel Vernon E. Megee, USMC, who told them to "go in and scrape your bellies on the beach."28 They did.
While the air attack proceeded, gun fire ships closed range for their final assault and at 8:25 A.M., bombardment was resumed, concentrating on the beaches and adjacent areas. The amtracs reported all in readiness to cross the line of departure at 8:15 A.M., and at 8:30 A.M. the pennant dipped on the Control Vessel, sending sixty-eight armored amtracs across the line of departure on time with waves of cargo amtracs following at 250 to 300 yard intervals. As the amtracs approached the beach, naval gunfire never ceased, but instead used a rolling barrage technique which shifted fire inland in 200 yard increments ahead of the troops. The overall effect of this tremendous pummeling was to stun the Japanese into temporary silence and inactivity. It is estimated that only five amtracs were put 29 Naval bombardment was supplemented by further runs of Marine Fighter Squadron 124, which used forty-eight F4U Corsairs and F6F Hellcats to strafe the beach ahead of the troops. Pilots were ordered to pull out at 600 feet because of the presence of naval gunfire below that altitude.30
Problems began almost immediately with the loose sand on the steep beaches. As the first armored amtracs contacted the sand between 8:59 and 9:00 A.M., many could not get traction up the steep gradient of the beach. This was particularly true in the 5th Marine Division zone on the left where the armored amtracs, after failing to climb the incline, backed Into the water and continued to supply overhead fire as the troops pushed inland. Armored amtracs in the 4th Marine Division were more successful, although everywhere the sand was loose, deep, and difficult. Cargo amtracs, not required to penetrate far inland, stopped near the water's edge to
Figure 31. The first waves of LVT(4)s head for beaches at Iwo Jima. Note the Naval Gunfire Ships, including a battleship, well inside the line of departure.
Figure 32. LVT(4)s churning for the shoreline. This is one of the later waves of LVTs.
discharge troops. Even troops found the sand sucking in over their boot tops and many, loaded with packs weighing up to 100 pounds, found just moving forward difficult.
After about fifteen minutes, penetrations of up to 300 yards inland were made, but by then the Japanese began to recover from the tremendous naval fire they had received and concentrated mortars and artillery on the LVT and other vehicles attempting to move around on the beach. To add to this increasing litter of damaged vehicles at the water's edge, many LCVPs, which carried later waves of troops, were stuck with their ramps buried in the loose sand, unable to retract with the rough surf, and broached sideways to the shore. There they remained until salvage could later extricate them, and so they added to a litter that was among the worst seen in amphibious operations. Tanks of Company A, 5th Tank Battalion landed at 9:25 A.M., but had great difficulty getting ashore, and four tanks broke their tracks and one had its engine drowned before they found an exit off the beach.31
Inland, progress was slow and little room yet existed in the early hours to establish supply dumps on the beach. Marston Matting, hinged steel plates connected together and used for the first time to establish quick roads over the sand, had not yet been laid to permit wheeled vehicles to operate. In this situation, the LVT became the primary means of getting the supplies to the troops. On the initial run into the beach, each cargo LVT carried 700 pounds of high priority cargo to be dumped on the beach and used immediately by the combat troops. It was anticipated that from one-half to two-thirds of these supplies, consisting mostly of water, ammunition, rations, signal equipment, and medical supplies, would be lost to enemy fire or washed out to sea, but recovery exceeded all
Figure 33. Two LVTs in action during the early phases of the landing. The leading vehicle has just received a direct hit from Japanese artillery.
Figure 34. This is an early example of the terrible beach litter that clogged efforts to land supplies.
expectations because sixty to seventy percent was retrieved and stacked by troops and advanced elements of the shore party landing in the sixth wave.32 Later runs by the LVTs went directly from supply ships and floating dumps offshore to front line troops, a situation which continued through 22 February in the 5th Marine Division zone, and through 25 February in the 4th Division's area. Up until these dates, ninety percent of the cargo for these two divisions was carried directly from the sea to the troops in cargo LVTs.33 Even after these days, LVTs were extensively used to move supplies because of poor roads and very rough terrain.
This intensive application of the LVT produced rapid mechanical deterioration and after four day's hard service, the number of cargo LVTs shrank from 400 to 267, a definite handicap in the early days of the operation and in part due to the recurrence of an old issue.34 As in the Marshalls, problems were once again experienced with the LST crews that carried the LVTs to the objective area. LSTs were reluctant to draw near the line of departure on D-Day, thus lengthening the run for the LVTs, and later, they refused to service any LVT except those they had carried. Most of the experienced LST crews of previous campaigns had been sent to the Philippines and Iwo Jima had green crews whose indoctrination was not complete. An innovation provided by LST mother ships was bunks, hot baths, and food for weary LVT crews forced to work continuously all day and sometimes at night during the early days of the landing.35
Refueling of the LVTs also became a problem. Bowser boats were too few in number and too hard to find. Medium landing craft, as well as the lighter Bowser boats, were bobbing about too much in the heavy seas to effect safe refueling. The only method that seemed to work was the slow
one of ferrying gasoline drums from attack transports to the LSTs which in turn conducted refueling operations.36
The strain of this logistics work was lightened to some extent by three companies of DUKWs competently handled by their Army crews. Also, a new, small amphibian vehicle was working hard on the scene. This was the M29C Weasel, a small, fully tracked cargo carrier with a very light ground pressure of 1.9 pounds per inch (psi), making it very mobile in the loose sand. It carried its payload of 1,200 pounds smartly about the island considering its tiny sixty-five horsepower engine, could travel thirty-six mph on land but only four mph in water, and was not considered suitable for the open water travels of the larger LVT.37
The fighting slowly moved inland against the toughest fortifications the Marines had ever faced. Kuribayashi had constructed two main lines of resistance across the island with a secondary line in the far northern part of the island. Due to the inadequate preliminary bombardment, a large number of the fortifications remained to be taken by artillery, tanks, flamethrowers, and, as always in war, finally the rifleman.
The 3rd Marine Division was brought ashore on 24 February 1945, and with it came its 3rd Tank Battalion. A total of three tank battalions or 150 tanks were on the island to provide critically needed gun power for destroying pillboxes. Against these heavy fortifications, the less powerful howitzer of the LVT(A)(4) was not effective; the higher velocity 75 mm gun of the M4A2 Sherman tank provided almost twice the hitting power of the short-barreled 75 mm howitzer in the LVT(A)(4). The LVT(A)(4) supplied direct fire during the critical early hours of the landing but was rapidly replaced by the early-arriving tanks.
As the drive proceeded slowly along the northern axis of the island,
Figure 35. The beachhead in the later stages of development after the troops had pushed inland. This is a view from Suribachi showing the workhorse LST unloading supplies.
Figure 36. This view shows the hectic logistic activity within the beachhead. Note the vast array of shipping out to sea.
LVT(A)(4)s floating in the ocean attempted to shell Japanese caves lining the cliffs that faced on the sea. Each time this was tried, however, the armored amtracs tended to spray their fire over a wide area and were forced to cease fire because their wild shooting endangered. friendly troops. This is directly attributable to the lack of gyro-stabilization in the turret of the LVT(A)(4) and snap shooting when troops are close is not an acceptable practice. Their fire remained accurate on land and they were used in the direct fire mode where tanks could not be obtained.
As the campaign neared its final phase, the fighting never ceased. It remained a pillbox-by-pillbox destruction contest with no quarter given or asked by the Japanese defenders. Casualties were exacted from the Marines to the last and General Kuribayashi himself perished somewhere in the northern part of the island by unknown means. Some experts say he participated in one of the few banzai attacks that were staged but others feel that he may have committed suicide along with many other Japanese soldiers who preferred death to surrender. The General had done his job well. As of 26 March 1945, when the island was secured, only 216 Japanese had been captured and the rest of the 21,000 to 23,000 defenders had died; Marine casualties totaled 5,885 killed or died of wounds, and 17,272 wounded. Experts inspecting the fortifications at Iwo Jima reported they had never seen a position so thoroughly defended. Isely and Crowl stated in their excellent analysis of the campaign, "Comparisons are difficult, but it is probable that no other given area in the history of modern war has been so skillfully fortified by nature and by man."38
In suprising contrast to the ferocity of the fight on Iwo Jima, casualties were light among the LVT personnel. The following table gives
figures for the four cargo LVT battalions (each numbering about 500 personnel):
Source: Whitman S. Bartley, Iwo Jima: Amphibious Epic (Washington, D.C.: Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, 1954), p. 221.
Died of Wounds
Wounded 3rd Amtrac Battalion 8 17 5th Amtrac Battalion 10 35 10th Amtrac Battalion 8 27 11th Amtrac Battalion 2 34
Separate figures are not available for the 2nd Armored Amtrac Battalion, but casualty counts appear to be low for this unit also. The explanation for the low casualty figures is in part due to the heavy logistical use of the cargo LVT behind the lines which kept it out of front line action after the early days, and the heavy pre-H-Hour bombardment which stunned the Japanese into silence and allowed the LVTs to land the early waves relatively unmolested. Also, tanks landing early replaced the armored amtracs and lowered their overall exposure to the heaviest fighting. The vehicles used at Iwo Jima differed little from those used at Saipan. The principal vehicle modification was the addition of machine gun shields to protect the operators of the vehicle's two machine guns mounted forward. This was a recommendation forwarded by amtrac personnel as a result of the Saipan landing and incorporated at the factory. The true significance of Iwo Jima in the history of the development of the LVT was its use on an island that did not have a coral reef. The LVT was now more than just a means of landing over a coral reef and represented the desire of the commanders to supply the troops with armor protection and mobility during the critical early phases of the landings. The mobility of the LVT in difficult terrain conditions was never more
clearly demonstrated than at Iwo Jima when they managed to move over the black sand with the vitally needed supplies during the first four days of fighting. Isely and Crowl supply a succinct evaluation,
Without the cargo amphibian tractors, however, and especially the later model equipped with a ramp, it is impossible to see how any advance could have been sustained, for these almost alone supplied the fighting troops during the first several days of the assault.39
This evaluation is for more than just a dull routine of shuttling supplies to the troops and evacuating casualties to the ships. The hectic role of the amtrac Is described graphically by a Marine Captain who was at Iwo Jima:
Whatever happened the amtracs kept coming--they kept coming in all night. They were the only link between the 40,000 men ashore and the ships. They had to keep coming. One tractor, on its way to the front with ammunition, was diverted into action by a Marine patrol held up by some Japs protecting an artillery position. When the Japs attacked with hand grenades the amtrac crew fought them off with their machine gun, but not until a grenade had landed in the tractor and wounded one of the Marines. The crew killed eight of the enemy and occupied the position, turned it over to the infantry, and went on its way.40
Iwo Jima was declared secured on 26 March 1945, but even before this airfield construction had started behind the lines. The first B-29 in distress landed at Iwo Jima on 4 March on the then-usable airfield number 1. By 26 March, thirty-five other Superfortresses in trouble had landed, and by the end of the war 2,251 B-29s made emergency landings with 24,761 crewmen aboard, of which a large number would have lost their lives if Iwo had not been available.41 Iwo Jima became a major staging base in the B-29 air war over Japan and the launch base for P-51 Mustang fighter cover for the bombers. Beyond this, it stands as a monument to the highest type of courage that won World War II. Fierce battles have been fought in Korea and Viet Nam, but the twenty-four Medals of Honor,
many of them posthumous, fully justify the words of Admiral Nimitz In his Pacific Fleet Communique of 17 March 1945: "Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue."42
As this epic became history and legend, the last battle in the Central Pacific campaign was nearing. It was to be the largest amphibious operation yet and would have to brave the "Divine Wind", the Kamikaze, before it would capture the island called Okinawa.
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1. Whitman S. Bartley, Iwo Jima: Amphibious Epic (Washington, D.C.: Historical. Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, 1954), p. 6.
2. George W. Garand and Truman R. Strobridge, Western Pacific Operations, Vol. IV of the History of United States Marine Corps Operations in World War II (5 Vols.: Washington D.C.: Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, United States Marine Corps, 1971), p. 452.
3. Bartley, Iwo Jima, p. 20.
4. Ibid., p. 22.
5. Ibid., p. 23.
6. Ibid., p. 2.
7. Garand and Strobridge, Western Pacific Operations, p. 449.
8. Ibid., p. 451.
9. Ibid., p. 450.
10. Bartley, Iwo Jima, p. 13.
11. Ibid., p. 14.
12. Garand and Strobridge, Western Pacific Operations, pp. 473-475.
13. Ibid., p. 475.
14. Bartley, Iwo Jima, p. 52.
15. Ibid., p. 28.
16. Ibid., p. 39.
17. Garand and Strobridge, Western Pacific Operations, p. 469.
18. Ibid., pp. 485-486.
19. Ibid., p. 459.
20. Bartley, Iwo Jima, p. 15.
21. Garand and Strobridge, Western Pacific Operations, p. 486.
22. Holland M. Smith, Coral and Brass (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1949), p. 243-244.
23. Ibid., p. 244.
24. Jeter A. Isely and Philip A. Crowl, The United States Marines and Amphibious War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951), p.446.
25. Garand and Strobridge, Western Pacific Operations, p. 495-497.
26. Isely and Crowl, U.S. Marines and Amphibious War, p. 446.
27. Garand and Strobridge, Western Pacific Operations, p. 503.
28. Robert Sherrod, History of Marine Aviation in World War II (Washington: Combat Forces Press, 1952), p. 347.
29. Isely and Crowl, U.S. Marines and Amphibious War, p. 487.
30. Sherrod, Marine Aviation, p. 347.
31. Bartley, Iwo Jima, p. 57.
32. Isely and Crowl, U.S. Marines and Amphibious War, p. 521.
33. Ibid., p. 522.
34. Ibid., p. 524.
37. E.J. Hoffschmidt and W. H. Tantum, United States Military Vehicles World War II (Greenwich: WE Inc., 1970), p. 118.
38. Isely and Crowl, U.S. Marines and Amphibious War, p. 486.
39. Ibid., p. 521.
40. Raymond Henri, "Logistics Afloat" in The United States Marine Corps in World War II, ed. S.E. Smith (New York: Random House, 1969), p. 769.
41. Bartley, Iwo Jima, p. 210.
42. Garand and Strobridge, Western Pacific Operations, p. 712.