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Title: Closing In: Marines in the Seizure of Iwo Jima
Author: Alexander, Joseph H.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  Closing In: Marines in the Seizure of Iwo Jima
  Assault Preparations
    Sidebar: The Japanese Commander
    Sidebar: The Assault Commanders at Iwo Jima
    Sidebar: Rosenthal’s Photograph of Iwo Jima Flag-Raising Quickly
                 Became One of the War’s Most Famous
  The Drive North
    Sidebar: The Japanese 320mm Spigot Mortar
    Sidebar: Marine Corps Air Support During Iwo Jima
  The Bitter End
    Sidebar: The Marines’ Zippo Tanks
    Sidebar: Iwo’s Fire Brigades: The Rocket Detachments
    Sidebar: Amphibious Logistical Support at Iwo Jima
  Iwo Jima’s Costs, Gains, and Legacies
    Sidebar: Above and Beyond the Call of Duty
    Sidebar: Assault Divisions’ Command Structures
  About the Author
  About the Series
  Transcriber’s Notes





[Illustration: _Marines of Company E, 2d Battalion, 28th Marines, lower
the first flag raised over Mount Suribachi, while other men raise a
second flag which became the subject of Associated Press photographer
Joe Rosenthal’s world-famous photograph._ Department of Defense Photo
(USMC) 112718.]

[Illustration: _A Marine flamethrower operator moves forward to assault
a Japanese pillbox on Motoyama Airfield._ Department of Defense Photo
(USMC) 111006.]

Closing In:

Marines in the Seizure of Iwo Jima

_by Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret)_

Sunday, 4 March 1945, marked the end of the second week of the U.S.
invasion of Iwo Jima. By this point the assault elements of the 3d,
4th, and 5th Marine Divisions were exhausted, their combat efficiency
reduced to dangerously low levels. The thrilling sight of the American
flag being raised by the 28th Marines on Mount Suribachi had occurred
10 days earlier, a lifetime on “Sulphur Island.” The landing forces of
the V Amphibious Corps (VAC) had already sustained 13,000 casualties,
including 3,000 dead. The “front lines” were a jagged serration across
Iwo’s fat northern half, still in the middle of the main Japanese
defenses. Ahead the going seemed all uphill against a well-disciplined,
rarely visible enemy.

In the center of the island, the 3d Marine Division units had been
up most of the night repelling a small but determined Japanese
counterattack which had found the seam between the 21st and 9th
Marines. Vicious close combat had cost both sides heavy casualties.
The counterattack spoiled the division’s preparations for a morning
advance. Both regiments made marginal gains against very stiff

To the east the 4th Marine Division had finally captured Hill 382,
ending its long exposure in “The Amphitheater,” but combat efficiency
had fallen to 50 percent. It would drop another five points by
nightfall. On this day the 24th Marines, supported by flame tanks,
advanced a total of 100 yards, pausing to detonate more than a ton of
explosives against enemy cave positions in that sector. The 23d and
25th Marines entered the most difficult terrain yet encountered, broken
ground that limited visibility to only a few feet.

Along the western flank, the 5th Marine Division had just seized
Nishi Ridge and Hill 362-B the previous day, suffering more than 500
casualties. It too had been up most of the night engaging a sizeable
force of infiltrators. The Sunday morning attacks lacked coordination,
reflecting the division’s collective exhaustion. Most rifle companies
were at half-strength. The net gain for the day, the division reported,
was “practically nil.”


But the battle was beginning to take its toll on the Japanese garrison
as well. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi knew his _109th Division_ had
inflicted heavy casualties on the attacking Marines, yet his own losses
had been comparable. The American capture of the key hills in the main
defense sector the day before deprived him of his invaluable artillery
observation sites. His brilliant chief of artillery, Colonel Chosaku
Kaido, lay dying. On this date Kuribayashi moved his own command post
from the central highlands to a large cave on the northwest coast. The
usual blandishments from Imperial General Headquarters in Tokyo reached
him by radio that afternoon, but Kuribayashi was in no mood for heroic
rhetoric. “Send me air and naval support and I will hold the island,”
he signalled. “Without them I cannot hold.”


    Marine Corps Art Collection

_“Silence in the Gorge,” an acrylic painting on masonite by Col Charles
H. Waterhouse, USMCR (Ret), who as private first class was wounded
during the battle._]

That afternoon the fighting men of both sides witnessed a harbinger of
Iwo Jima’s fate. Through the overcast skies appeared a gigantic silver
bomber, the largest aircraft anyone had ever seen. It was the Boeing
B-29 Super Fortress “Dinah Might,” crippled in a raid over Tokyo,
seeking an emergency landing on the island’s scruffy main airstrip.
As the Americans in the vicinity held their breaths, the big bomber
swooped in from the south, landed heavily, clipped a field telephone
pole with a wing, and shuddered to a stop less than 50 feet from the
bitter end of the strip. Pilot Lieutenant Fred Malo and his 10-man
crew were extremely glad to be alive, but they didn’t stay long. Every
Japanese gunner within range wanted to bag this prize. Mechanics made
field repairs within a half hour. Then the 65-ton Superfort lumbered
aloft through a hail of enemy fire and headed back to its base in
Tinian. The Marines cheered.

The battle of Iwo Jima would rage on for another 22 days, claiming
eleven thousand more American casualties and the lives of virtually
the entire Japanese garrison. This was a colossal fight between two
well-armed, veteran forces--the biggest and bloodiest battle in the
history of the United States Marine Corps. From the 4th of March on,
however, the leaders of both sides entertained no doubts as to the
ultimate outcome.

_Assault Preparations_

Iwo Jima was one of those rare amphibious landings where the assault
troops could clearly see the value of the objective. They were the
first ground units to approach within a thousand miles of the Japanese
homeland, and they were participating directly in the support of the
strategic bombing campaign.

The latter element represented a new wrinkle on an old theme. For
40 years the U.S. Marines had been developing the capability for
seizing advanced naval bases in support of the fleet. Increasingly in
the Pacific War--and most especially at Saipan, Tinian, and now Iwo
Jima--they were seizing advanced airbases to further the strategic
bombing of the Japanese home islands.

American servicemen had awaited the coming of the B-29s for years. The
“very-long-range” bombers, which had become operational too late for
the European War, had been striking mainland Japan since November 1944.
Results proved disappointing. The problem stemmed not from the pilots
or planes but rather from a vexing little spit of volcanic rock lying
halfway along the direct path from Saipan to Tokyo--Iwo Jima. Iwo’s
radar gave the Japanese defense authorities two hours advance notice of
every B-29 strike. Japanese fighters based on Iwo swarmed up to harass
the unescorted Superforts going in and especially coming home, picking
off those bombers crippled by antiaircraft (AA) fire. As a result,
the B-29s had to fly higher, along circuitous routes, with a reduced
payload. At the same time, enemy bombers based on Iwo often raided B-29
bases in the Marianas, causing some damage.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff decided Iwo Jima must be captured and a U.S.
airbase built there. This would eliminate Japanese bombing raids and
the early warning interceptions, provide fighter escorts throughout
the most dangerous portion of the long B-29 missions, and enable
greater payloads at longer ranges. Iwo Jima in American hands would
also provide a welcome emergency field for crippled B-29s returning
from Tokyo. It would also protect the flank of the pending invasion
of Okinawa. In October 1944 the Joint Chiefs directed Fleet Admiral
Chester W. Nimitz, CinCPac, to seize and develop Iwo Jima within the
ensuing three months. This launched Operation Detachment.

The first enemy in the campaign would prove to be the island itself, an
ugly, barren, foul-smelling chunk of volcanic sand and rock, barely 10
square miles in size. Iwo Jima means “Sulphur Island” in Japanese. As
described by one Imperial Army staff officer, the place was “an island
of sulphur, no water, no sparrow, no swallow.” Less poetic American
officers saw Iwo’s resemblance to a pork chop, with the 556-foot
dormant volcano Mount Suribachi dominating the narrow southern end,
overlooking the only potential landing beaches. To the north, the land
rose unevenly onto the Motoyama Plateau, falling off sharply along
the coasts into steep cliffs and canyons. The terrain in the north
represented a defender’s dream: broken, convoluted, cave-dotted, a
“jungle of stone.” Wreathed by volcanic steam, the twisted landscape
appeared ungodly, almost moon-like. More than one surviving Marine
compared the island to something out of Dante’s _Inferno_.

Forbidding Iwo Jima had two redeeming features in 1945: the military
value of its airfields and the psychological status of the island
as a historical possession of Japan. Iwo Jima lay in Japan’s “Inner
Vital Defense Zone” and was in fact administered as part of the Tokyo
Prefecture. In the words of one Japanese officer, “Iwo Jima is the
doorkeeper to the Imperial capital.” Even by the slowest aircraft,
Tokyo could be reached in three flight hours from Iwo. In the battle
for Iwo Jima, a total of 28,000 Americans and Japanese would give their
lives in savage fighting during the last winter months of 1945.

No one on the American side ever suggested that taking Iwo Jima would
be an easy proposition. Admiral Nimitz assigned this mission to the
same team which had prevailed so effectively in the earlier amphibious
assaults in the Gilberts, Marshalls, and Marianas: Admiral Raymond
A. Spruance, commanding the Fifth Fleet; Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly
Turner, commanding the Expeditionary Forces; and Rear Admiral Harry W.
Hill, commanding the Attack Force. Spruance added the highly regarded
Rear Admiral William H. P. Blandy, a veteran of the Peleliu/Angaur
landings, to command the Amphibious Support Forces, responsible for
minesweeping, underwater demolition team operations, and preliminary
naval air and gun bombardment.

As usual, “maintaining unremitting military pressure on the enemy”
meant an accelerated planning schedule and an overriding emphasis on
speed of execution. The amphibious task force preparing to assault
Iwo Jima soon found itself squeezed on both ends. Hill and Blandy had
a critical need for the amphibious ships, landing craft, and shore
bombardment vessels currently being used by General Douglas MacArthur
in his reconquest of Luzon in the Philippines. But bad weather and
stiff enemy resistance combined to delay completion of that operation.
The Joint Chiefs reluctantly postponed D-day for Iwo Jima from 20
January 1945 until 19 February. The tail end of the schedule provided
no relief. D-Day for Okinawa could go no later than 1 April because of
the approach of the monsoon season. The constricted time frame for Iwo
would have grave implications for the landing force.

The experienced V Amphibious Corps under Major General Harry Schmidt,
USMC, would provide the landing force, an unprecedented assembly of
three Marine divisions, the 3d, 4th, and 5th. Schmidt would have the
distinction of commanding the largest force of U.S. Marines ever
committed in a single battle, a combined force which eventually
totalled more than 80,000 men. Well above half of these Marines were
veterans of earlier fighting in the Pacific; realistic training had
prepared the newcomers well. The troops assaulting Iwo Jima were
arguably the most proficient amphibious forces the world had seen.

Unfortunately, two senior Marines shared the limelight for the Iwo
Jima battle, and history has often done both an injustice. Spruance
and Turner prevailed upon Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, then
commanding Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific, to participate in Operation
Detachment as Commanding General, Expeditionary Troops. This was
a gratuitous billet. Schmidt had the rank, experience, staff, and
resources to execute corps-level responsibility without being
second-guessed by another headquarters. Smith, the amphibious pioneer
and veteran of landings in the Aleutians, Gilberts, Marshalls, and
Marianas, admitted to being embarrassed by the assignment. “My sun had
almost set by then,” he stated, “I think they asked me along only in
case something happened to Harry Schmidt.” Smith tried to keep out
of Schmidt’s way, but his subsequent decision to withhold commitment
of the 3d Marines, the Expeditionary Troops reserve, remains as
controversial today as it was in 1945.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 109649

_Burdened with heavy packs and equipment, Marine communicators dash for
cover while advancing under heavy fire during the drive inland from the

Holland Smith was an undeniable asset to the Iwo Jima campaign. During
the top-level planning stage he was often, as always, a “voice in the
wilderness,” predicting severe casualties unless greater and more
effective preliminary naval bombardment was provided. He diverted the
press and the visiting dignitaries from Schmidt, always providing
realistic counterpoints to some of the rosier staff estimates. “It’s a
tough proposition,” Smith would say about Iwo, “That’s why we are here.”

General Schmidt, whose few public pronouncements left him saddled with
the unfortunate prediction of a 10-day conquest of Iwo Jima, came to
resent the perceived role Holland Smith played in post-war accounts. As
he would forcibly state:

  I was the commander of all troops on Iwo Jima at all times. Holland
  Smith never had a command post ashore, never issued a single order
  ashore, never spent a single night ashore.... Isn’t it important
  from an historical standpoint that I commanded the greatest number
  of Marines ever to be engaged in a single action in the entire
  history of the Marine Corps?

General Smith would not disagree with those points. Smith provided a
useful role, but Schmidt and his exceptional staff deserve maximum
credit for planning and executing the difficult and bloody battle of
Iwo Jima.

The V Amphibious Corps achievement was made even more memorable by
the enormously difficult opposition provided by the island and the
enemy. In Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi [see sidebar], the
Americans faced one of the most formidable opponents of the war. A
fifth-generation _samurai_, hand-picked and personally extolled by the
Emperor, Kuribayashi combined combat experience with an innovative
mind and an iron will. Although this would be his only combat against
American forces, he had learned much about his prospective opponents
from earlier service in the United States. More significantly,
he could appraise with an unblinking eye the results of previous
Japanese attempts to repel American invasions of Japanese-held
garrisons. Heroic rhetoric aside, Kuribayashi saw little to commend
the “defend-at-the-water’s-edge” tactics and “all-or-nothing” _Banzai_
attacks which had characterized Japan’s failures from Tarawa to Tinian.
Kuribayashi, a realist, also knew not to expect much help from Japan’s
depleted fleet and air forces. His best chances, he concluded, would
be to maximize Iwo’s forbidding terrain with a defense in depth, along
the pattern of the recent Biak and Peleliu defensive efforts. He would
eschew coast defense, anti-landing, and _Banzai_ tactics and instead
conduct a prolonged battle of attrition, a war of nerves, patience, and
time. Possibly the Americans would lose heart and abandon the campaign.

Such a seemingly passive policy, even that late in the war, seemed
revolutionary to senior Japanese Army and Navy leaders. It ran counter
to the deeply ingrained warrior code, which viewed the defensive as
only an unpleasant interim pending resumption of the glorious offensive
in which one could destroy the enemy with sword and bayonet. Even
Imperial General Headquarters grew nervous. There is some evidence
of a top-level request for guidance in defending against American
“storm landings” from Nazi Germany, whose sad experience in trying
to defend Normandy at the water’s edge had proven disastrous. The
Japanese remained unconvinced. Kuribayashi needed every bit of his top
connections with the Emperor to keep from being summarily relieved
for his radical proposals. His was not a complete organizational
victory--the Navy insisted on building gun casemates and blockhouses
along the obvious landing beaches on Iwo--but in general he prevailed.

Kuribayashi demanded the assistance of the finest mining engineers
and fortifications specialists in the Empire. Here again, the island
favored the defender. Iwo’s volcanic sand mixed readily with cement to
produce superior concrete for installations; the soft rock lent itself
to rapid digging. Half the garrison lay aside their weapons to labor
with pick and spade. When American heavy bombers from the Seventh Air
Force commenced a daily pounding of the island in early December 1944,
Kuribayashi simply moved everything--weapons, command posts, barracks,
aid stations--underground. These engineering achievements were
remarkable. Masked gun positions provided interlocking fields of fire,
miles of tunnels linked key defensive positions, every cave featured
multiple outlets and ventilation tubes. One installation inside Mount
Suribachi ran seven stories deep. The Americans would rarely see a live
Japanese on Iwo Jima until the bitter end.

American intelligence experts, aided by documents captured in
Saipan and by an almost daily flow of aerial photography (and
periscope-level pictures from the submarine _Spearfish_), puzzled
over the “disappearing act” of the Japanese garrison. Trained photo
interpreters, using stereoscopic lenses, listed nearly 700 potential
targets, but all were hardened, covered, masked. The intelligence
staffs knew there was no fresh water available on the island. They
could see the rainwater cisterns and they knew what the average monthly
rainfall would deliver. They concluded the garrison could not possibly
survive under those conditions in numbers greater than 12,000 or
13,000. But Kuribayashi’s force was twice that size. The men existed on
half-rations of water for months before the battle began.

Unlike earlier amphibious assaults at Guadalcanal and Tarawa, the
Americans would not enjoy either strategic or tactical surprise at
Iwo Jima. Japanese strategists concluded Iwo Jima would be invaded
soon after the loss of the Marianas. Six months before the battle,
Kuribayashi wrote his wife, “The Americans will surely invade this
Iwo Jima ... do not look for my return.” He worked his men ruthlessly
to complete all defensive and training preparations by 11 February
1945--and met the objective. His was a mixed force of veterans and
recruits, soldiers and sailors. His artillerymen and mortar crews were
among the best in the Empire. Regardless, he trained and disciplined
them all. As the Americans soon discovered, each fighting position
contained the commander’s “Courageous Battle Vows” prominently posted
above the firing apertures. Troops were admonished to maintain their
positions and exact 10 American lives for every Japanese death.

General Schmidt issued VAC Operation Plan 5-44 on 23 December 1944. The
plan offered nothing fancy. Mount Suribachi dominated both potential
beaches, but the 3,000 yards of black sand along the southeastern
coast appeared more sheltered from the prevailing winds. Here the V
Amphibious Corps would land on D-day, the 4th Marine Division on the
right, the 5th on the left, the 3d in reserve. The initial objectives
included the lower airfield, the west coast, and Suribachi. Then the
force would swing into line and attack north, shoulder to shoulder.

Anticipation of a major Japanese counterattack the first night
influenced the landing plan. “We welcome a counterattack,” said Holland
Smith, “That’s generally when we break their backs.” Both Schmidt and
4th Marine Division commander Major General Clifton B. Cates knew from
recent experience at Tinian how capable the Japanese were at assembling
large reserves at potential soft points along a fresh beachhead. The
assault divisions would plan to land their artillery regiments before
dark on D-day in that contingency.


    E.L. Wilson



The physical separation of the three divisions, from Guam to Hawaii,
had no adverse effect on preparatory training. Where it counted
most--the proficiency of small units in amphibious landings and
combined-arms assaults on fortified positions--each division was
well prepared for the forthcoming invasion. The 3d Marine Division
had just completed its participation in the successful recapture of
Guam; field training often extended to active combat patrols to root
out die-hard Japanese survivors. In Maui, the 4th Marine Division
prepared for its fourth major assault landing in 13 months with quiet
confidence. Recalled Major Frederick J. Karch, operations officer
for the 14th Marines, “we had a continuity there of veterans that
was just unbeatable.” In neighboring Hawaii, the 5th Marine Division
calmly prepared for its first combat experience. The unit’s newness
would prove misleading. Well above half of the officers and men were
veterans, including a number of former Marine parachutists and a few
Raiders who had first fought in the Solomons. Lieutenant Colonel Donn
J. Robertson took command of the 3d Battalion, 27th Marines, barely
two weeks before embarkation and immediately ordered it into the field
for a sustained live-firing exercise. Its competence and confidence
impressed him. “These were professionals,” he concluded.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 112392

_“Dinah Might,” the first crippled B-29 to make an emergency landing on
Iwo Jima during the fighting, is surrounded by Marines and Seabees on 4
March 1945._]

Among the veterans preparing for Iwo Jima were two Medal of Honor
recipients from the Guadalcanal campaign, Gunnery Sergeant John “Manila
John” Basilone and Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Galer. Headquarters
Marine Corps preferred to keep such distinguished veterans in the
states for morale purposes, but both men wrangled their way back
overseas--Basilone leading a machine gun platoon, Galer delivering
a new radar unit for employment with the Landing Force Air Support
Control Unit.

The Guadalcanal veterans would only shake their heads at the abundance
of amphibious shipping available for Operation Detachment. Admiral
Turner would command 495 ships, of which fully 140 were amphibiously
configured, the whole array 10 times the size of Guadalcanal’s task
force. Still there were problems. So many of the ships and crews were
new that each rehearsal featured embarrassing collisions and other
accidents. The new TD-18 bulldozers were found to be an inch too
wide for the medium landing craft (LCMs). The newly modified M4A3
Sherman tanks proved so heavy that the LCMs rode with dangerously low
freeboards. Likewise, 105mm howitzers overloaded the amphibious trucks
(DUKWs) to the point of near-unseaworthiness. These factors would prove
costly in Iwo’s unpredictable surf zone.

These problems notwithstanding, the huge force embarked and began the
familiar move to westward. Said Colonel Robert E. Hogaboom, Chief of
Staff, 3d Marine Division, “we were in good shape, well trained, well
equipped and thoroughly supported.”

On Iwo Jima, General Kuribayashi had benefitted from the American
postponements of Operation Detachment because of delays in the
Philippines campaign. He, too, felt as ready and prepared as possible.
When the American armada sailed from the Marianas on 13 February, he
was forewarned. He deployed one infantry battalion in the vicinity of
the beaches and lower airfield, ordered the bulk of his garrison into
its assigned fighting holes, and settled down to await the inevitable

[Illustration: _An aerial view of Iwo Jima before the landing clearly
shows “pork chop” shape. Mount Suribachi, in the right foreground, is
at the southern end of the island._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 413529

Two contentious issues divided the Navy-Marine team as D-day at Iwo
Jima loomed closer. The first involved Admiral Spruance’s decision to
detach Task Force 58, the fast carriers under Admiral Marc Mitscher,
to attack strategic targets on Honshu simultaneously with the onset of
Admiral Blandy’s preliminary bombardment of Iwo. The Marines suspected
Navy-Air Force rivalry at work here--most of Mitscher’s targets were
aircraft factories which the B-29s had missed badly a few days earlier.
What the Marines really begrudged was Mitscher taking all eight Marine
Corps fighter squadrons, assigned to the fast carriers, plus the new
fast battleships with their 16-inch guns. Task Force 58 returned to Iwo
in time to render sparkling support with these assets on D-day, but two
days later it was off again, this time for good.


    Col William P. McCahill Collection

_A Marine inspects a Japanese coastal defense gun which, although
protected by steel-reinforced concrete, was destroyed in prelanding
naval gunfire bombardments._]

The other issue was related and it concerned the continuing argument
between senior Navy and Marine officers over the extent of preliminary
naval gunfire. The Marines looked at the intelligence reports on Iwo
and requested 10 days of preliminary fire. The Navy said it had neither
the time nor the ammo to spare; three days would have to suffice.
Holland Smith and Harry Schmidt continued to plead, finally offering
to compromise to four days. Turner deferred to Spruance who ruled that
three days prep fires, in conjunction with the daily pounding being
administered by the Seventh Air Force, would do the job.

Lieutenant Colonel Donald M. Weller, USMC, served as the FMFPAC/Task
Force 51 naval gunfire officer, and no one in either sea service knew
the business more thoroughly. Weller had absorbed the lessons of the
Pacific War well, especially those of the conspicuous failures at
Tarawa. The issue, he argued forcibly to Admiral Turner, was not the
weight of shells nor their caliber but rather time. Destruction of
heavily fortified enemy targets took deliberate, pinpoint firing from
close ranges, assessed and adjusted by aerial observers. Iwo Jima’s 700
“hard” targets would require time to knock out, a lot of time.

Neither Spruance nor Turner had time to give, for strategic, tactical,
and logistical reasons. Three days of firing by Admiral Blandy’s
sizeable bombardment force would deliver four times the amount of
shells Tarawa received, and one and a half times that delivered against
larger Saipan. It would have to do.


In effect, Iwo’s notorious foul weather, the imperviousness of many of
the Japanese fortifications, and other distractions dissipated even the
three days’ bombardment. “We got about thirteen hours’ worth of fire
support during the thirty-four hours of available daylight,” complained
Brigadier General William W. Rogers, chief of staff to General Schmidt.

The Americans received an unexpected bonus when General Kuribayashi
committed his only known tactical error during the battle. This
occurred on D-minus-2, as a force of 100 Navy and Marine underwater
demolition team (UDT) frogmen bravely approached the eastern beaches
escorted by a dozen LCI landing craft firing their guns and rockets.
Kuribayashi evidently believed this to be the main landing and
authorized the coastal batteries to open fire. The exchange was hot and
heavy, with the LCIs getting the worst of it, but U.S. battleships and
cruisers hurried in to blast the casemate guns suddenly revealed on the
slopes of Suribachi and along the rock quarry on the right flank.

That night, gravely concerned about the hundreds of Japanese targets
still untouched by two days of firing, Admiral Blandy conducted a
“council of war” on board his flagship. At Weller’s suggestion, Blandy
junked the original plan and directed his gunships to concentrate
exclusively on the beach areas. This was done with considerable effect
on D-minus-1 and D-day morning itself. Kuribayashi noted that most of
the positions the Imperial Navy insisted on building along the beach
approaches had in fact been destroyed, as he had predicted. Yet his
main defensive belts criss-crossing the Motoyama Plateau remained
intact. “I pray for a heroic fight,” he told his staff.

On board Admiral Turner’s flagship, the press briefing held the night
before D-day was uncommonly somber. General Holland Smith predicted
heavy casualties, possibly as many as 15,000, which shocked all hands.
A man clad in khakis without rank insignia then stood up to address the
room. It was James V. Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy. “Iwo Jima, like
Tarawa, leaves very little choice,” he said quietly, “except to take it
by force of arms, by character and courage.”

[Sidebar (page 6): The Japanese Commander

In the estimation of Lieutenant Colonel Justice M. Chambers, USMC,
a battalion commander (3/25) whose four days ashore resulted in the
Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor: “On Iwo Jima, one of their
smartest generals commanded, a man who did not believe in the Banzai
business; each Jap was to kill ten Marines--for awhile they were
beating their quotas.” Chambers was describing Lieutenant General
Tadamichi Kuribayashi, Imperial Japanese Army, Commanding General,
_109th Division_ and Commander, _Ogasawara Army Group_. The U.S.
Marines have rarely faced a tougher opponent.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 152108

_LtGen Tadamichi Kuribayashi, Imperial Japanese Army._]

Kuribayashi, 53, a native of Nagano Prefecture, had served the Emperor
as a cavalry officer since graduating from the Military Academy in
1914. He spent several years as a junior officer posted to the Japanese
Embassies in America and Canada. With the advent of war in Asia,
Kuribayashi commanded a cavalry regiment in combat in Manchuria and
a brigade in northern China. Later, he served as chief of staff of
the _Twenty-third Army_ during the capture of Hong Kong. Favored by
the Emperor, he returned from China to command the _Imperial Guards
Division_ in Tokyo. After the fall of Saipan in June 1944, he was
assigned to command the defensive fortress of Iwo Jima.

Kuribayashi was a realist. He saw Iwo Jima’s crude airstrips as a net
liability to the Empire, at best providing nuisance raids against the
B-29s, certain to draw the attention of American strategic planners.
Iwo Jima’s airfields in American hands would pose an enormous threat
to Japan. Kuribayashi saw only two options: either blow up the entire
island, which proved infeasible, or defend it to the death. To do the
latter effectively he adapted a radical defensive policy, foregoing
the water’s-edge linear tactics and suicidal _Banzai_ attacks of
previous island battles. This stirred controversy at the highest
levels--Imperial Headquarters even asked the Nazis for advice on
repelling American invasions--as well as among Kuribayashi’s own
officers. Kuribayashi made some compromises with the semi-independent
naval forces on the island, but sacked 18 senior army officers,
including his own chief of staff. Those who remained would implement
their commander’s policy to the letter.

Doomed without naval or air support, Kuribayashi nevertheless proved
to be a resolute and resourceful field commander. His only tactical
error was to authorize the sector commander to engage the U.S. task
force covering underwater demolitions team operations on D-2. This
became a gift to the attackers, for it revealed to American gunners the
previously masked batteries which otherwise would have slaughtered the
assault waves on D-day.

Japanese accounts indicate Kuribayashi committed _hara-kari_, the
Japanese ritual suicide, in his cave near Kitano Point on 23 March
1945, the 33d day of the battle. “Of all our adversaries in the
Pacific,” said General Holland M. Smith, USMC, “Kuribayashi was the
most redoubtable.” Said another Marine, “Let’s hope the Japs don’t have
any more like him.”


Weather conditions around Iwo Jima on D-day morning, 19 February 1945,
were almost ideal. At 0645 Admiral Turner signalled “Land the landing

[Illustration: _From the Japanese position overlooking the landing
beaches and Airfield No. 1, the enemy observers had an unobstructed
view of the entire beachhead. From a field sketch by Cpl Daniel L.
Winsor, Jr., USMCR, S-2, 25th Marines._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

Shore bombardment ships did not hesitate to engage the enemy island
at near point-blank range. Battleships and cruisers steamed as close
as 2,000 yards to level their guns against island targets. Many of
the “Old Battleships” had performed this dangerous mission in all
theaters of the war. Marines came to recognize and appreciate their
contributions. It seemed fitting that the old _Nevada_, raised from the
muck and ruin of Pearl Harbor, should lead the bombardment force close
ashore. Marines also admired the battleship _Arkansas_, built in 1912,
and recently returned from the Atlantic where she had battered German
positions at Point du Hoc at Normandy during the epic Allied landing on
6 June 1944.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 14284

_Members of the 4th Marine Division receive a last-minute briefing
before D-day._]

Lieutenant Colonels Weller and William W. “Bucky” Buchanan, both
artillery officers, had devised a modified form of the “rolling
barrage” for use by the bombarding gunships against beachfront targets
just before H-Hour. This concentration of naval gunfire would advance
progressively as the troops landed, always remaining 400 yards to their
front. Air spotters would help regulate the pace. Such an innovation
appealed to the three division commanders, each having served in France
during World War I. In those days, a good rolling barrage was often the
only way to break a stalemate.

The shelling was terrific. Admiral Hill would later boast that “there
were no proper targets for shore bombardment remaining on Dog-Day
morning.” This proved to be an overstatement, yet no one could deny the
unprecedented intensity of firepower Hill delivered against the areas
surrounding the landing beaches. As General Kuribayashi would ruefully
admit in an assessment report to Imperial General Headquarters, “we
need to reconsider the power of bombardment from ships; the violence of
the enemy’s bombardments is far beyond description.”

The amphibious task force appeared from over the horizon, the rails
of the troopships crowded with combat-equipped Marines watching the
spectacular fireworks. The Guadalcanal veterans among them realized a
grim satisfaction watching American battleships leisurely pounding the
island from just offshore. The war had come full cycle from the dark
days of October 1942 when the 1st Marine Division and the Cactus Air
Force endured similar shelling from Japanese battleships.

The Marines and sailors were anxious to get their first glimpse of the
objective. Correspondent John P. Marquand, the Pulitzer Prize-winning
writer, recorded his own first impressions of Iwo: “Its silhouette was
like a sea monster, with the little dead volcano for the head, and
the beach area for the neck, and all the rest of it, with its scrubby
brown cliffs for the body.” Lieutenant David N. Susskind, USNR, wrote
down his initial thoughts from the bridge of the troopship _Mellette_:
“Iwo Jima was a rude, ugly sight.... Only a geologist could look at it
and not be repelled.” As described in a subsequent letter home by Navy
Lieutenant Michael F. Keleher, a surgeon in the 25th Marines:

  The naval bombardment had already begun and I could see the
  orange-yellow flashes as the battleships, cruisers, and
  destroyers blasted away at the island broadside. Yes, there was
  Iwo--surprisingly close, just like the pictures and models we had
  been studying for six weeks. The volcano was to our left, then the
  long, flat black beaches where we were going to land, and the rough
  rocky plateau to our right.

The commanders of the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions, Major Generals
Clifton B. Cates and Keller E. Rockey, respectively, studied the island
through binoculars from their respective ships. Each division would
land two reinforced regiments abreast. From left to right, the beaches
were designated Green, Red, Yellow, and Blue. The 5th Division would
land the 28th Marines on the left flank, over Green Beach, the 27th
Marines over Red. The 4th Division would land the 23d Marines over
Yellow Beach and the 25th Marines over Blue Beach on the right flank.
General Schmidt reviewed the latest intelligence reports with growing
uneasiness and requested a reassignment of reserve forces with General
Smith. The 3d Marine Division’s 21st Marines would replace the 26th
Marines as corps reserve, thus releasing the latter regiment to the 5th

Schmidt’s landing plan envisioned the 28th Marines cutting the island
in half, then turning to capture Suribachi, while the 25th Marines
would scale the Rock Quarry and then serve as the hinge for the entire
corps to swing around to the north. The 23d Marines and 27th Marines
would capture the first airfield and pivot north within their assigned

General Cates was already concerned about the right flank. Blue Beach
Two lay directly under the observation and fire of suspected Japanese
positions in the Rock Quarry, whose steep cliffs overshadowed the
right flank like Suribachi dominated the left. The 4th Marine Division
figured that the 25th Marines would have the hardest objective to take
on D-day. Said Cates, “If I knew the name of the man on the extreme
right of the right-hand squad I’d recommend him for a medal before we
go in.”

The choreography of the landing continued to develop. Iwo Jima would
represent the pinnacle of forcible amphibious assault against a heavily
fortified shore, a complex art mastered painstakingly by the Fifth
Fleet over many campaigns. Seventh Air Force Martin B-24 Liberator
bombers flew in from the Marianas to strike the smoking island.
Rocket ships moved in to saturate nearshore targets. Then it was time
for the fighter and attack squadrons from Mitscher’s Task Force 58
to contribute. The Navy pilots showed their skills at bombing and
strafing, but the troops naturally cheered the most at the appearance
of F4U Corsairs flown by Marine Fighter Squadrons 124 and 213 led
by Lieutenant Colonel William A. Millington from the fleet carrier
_Essex_. Colonel Vernon E. Megee, in his shipboard capacity as air
officer for General Smith’s Expeditionary Troops staff, had urged
Millington to put on a special show for the troops in the assault
waves. “Drag your bellies on the beach,” he told Millington. The Marine
fighters made an impressive approach parallel to the island, then
virtually did Megee’s bidding, streaking low over the beaches, strafing
furiously. The geography of the Pacific War since Bougainville had kept
many of the ground Marines separated from their own air support, which
had been operating in areas other than where they had been fighting,
most notably the Central Pacific. “It was the first time a lot of them
had ever seen a Marine fighter plane,” said Megee. The troops were not

[Illustration: _Laden with battle-ready V Amphibious Corps Marines,
LSMs (landing ship, medium) head for Iwo’s beaches. Landing craft of
this type were capable of carrying five Sherman tanks. In the left
background lies smoke-covered Mount Suribachi._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 109598

The planes had barely disappeared when naval gunfire resumed, carpeting
the beach areas with a building crescendo of high-explosive shells.
The ship-to-shore movement was well underway, an easy 30-minute run
for the tracked landing vehicles (LVTs). This time there were enough
LVTs to do the job: 68 LVT(A)4 armored amtracs mounting snub-nosed
75mm cannon leading the way, followed by 380 troop-laden LVT 4s and
LVT 2s. The waves crossed the line of departure on time and chugged
confidently towards the smoking beaches, all the while under the
climactic bombardment from the ships. Here there was no coral reef, no
killer neap tides to be concerned with. The Navy and Marine frogmen had
reported the approaches free of mines or tetrahedrons. There was no
premature cessation of fire. The “rolling barrage” plan took effect.
Hardly a vehicle was lost to the desultory enemy fire.

The massive assault waves hit the beach within two minutes of H-hour.
A Japanese observer watching the drama unfold from a cave on the
slopes of Suribachi reported, “At nine o’clock in the morning several
hundred landing craft with amphibious tanks in the lead rushed ashore
like an enormous tidal wave.” Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Williams,
executive officer of the 28th Marines, recalled that “the landing was a
magnificent sight to see--two divisions landing abreast; you could see
the whole show from the deck of a ship.” To this point, so far, so good.

The first obstacle came not from the Japanese but the beach and the
parallel terraces. Iwo Jima was an emerging volcano; its steep beaches
dropped off sharply, producing a narrow but violent surf zone. The
soft black sand immobilized all wheeled vehicles and caused some of the
tracked amphibians to belly down. The boat waves that closely followed
the LVTs had more trouble. Ramps would drop, a truck or jeep would
attempt to drive out, only to get stuck. In short order a succession
of plunging waves hit the stalled craft before they could completely
unload, filling their sterns with water and sand, broaching them
broadside. The beach quickly resembled a salvage yard.

[Illustration: LANDING PLAN


    E.L. Wilson

The infantry, heavily laden, found its own “foot-mobility” severely
restricted. In the words of Corporal Edward Hartman, a rifleman with
the 4th Marine Division: “the sand was so soft it was like trying to
run in loose coffee grounds.” From the 28th Marines came this early,
laconic report: “Resistance moderate, terrain awful.”

The rolling barrage and carefully executed landing produced the desired
effect, suppressing direct enemy fire, providing enough shock and
distraction to enable the first assault waves to clear the beach and
begin advancing inward. Within minutes 6,000 Marines were ashore. Many
became thwarted by increasing fire over the terraces or down from the
highlands, but hundreds leapt forward to maintain assault momentum.
The 28th Marines on the left flank had rehearsed on similar volcanic
terrain on the island of Hawaii. Now, despite increasing casualties
among their company commanders and the usual disorganization of
landing, elements of the regiment used their initiative to strike
across the narrow neck of the peninsula. The going became progressively
costly as more and more Japanese strongpoints along the base of
Suribachi seemed to spring to life. Within 90 minutes of the landing,
however, elements of the 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, had reached the
western shore, 700 yards across from Green Beach. Iwo Jima had been
severed--“like cutting off a snake’s head,” in the words of one Marine.
It would represent the deepest penetration of what was becoming a very
long and costly day.

The other three regiments experienced difficulty leaving the black sand
terraces and wheeling across towards the first airfield. The terrain
was an open bowl, a shooting gallery in full view from Suribachi on
the left and the rising tableland to the right. Any thoughts of a
“cakewalk” quickly vanished as well-directed machine-gun fire whistled
across the open ground and mortar rounds began dropping along the
terraces. Despite these difficulties, the 27th Marines made good
initial gains, reaching the southern and western edges of the first
airfield before noon. The 23d Marines landed over Yellow Beach and
sustained the brunt of the first round of Japanese combined arms fire.
These troops crossed the second terrace only to be confronted by
two huge concrete pillboxes, still lethal despite all the pounding.
Overcoming these positions proved costly in casualties and time. More
fortified positions appeared in the broken ground beyond. Colonel
Walter W. Wensinger’s call for tank support could not be immediately
honored because of trafficability and congestion problems on the beach.
The regiment clawed its way several hundred yards towards the eastern
edge of the airstrip.

No assault units found it easy going to move inland, but the 25th
Marines almost immediately ran into a buzz-saw trying to move across
Blue Beach. General Cates had been right in his appraisal. “That
right flank was a bitch if there ever was one,” he would later say.
Lieutenant Colonel Hollis W. Mustain’s 1st Battalion, 25th Marines,
managed to scratch forward 300 yards under heavy fire in the first half
hour, but Lieutenant Colonel Chambers’ 3d Battalion, 25th Marines, took
the heaviest beating of the day on the extreme right trying to scale
the cliffs leading to the Rock Quarry. Chambers landed 15 minutes after
H-hour. “Crossing that second terrace,” he recalled, “the fire from
automatic weapons was coming from all over. You could’ve held up a
cigarette and lit it on the stuff going by. I knew immediately we were
in for one hell of a time.”


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110128

_Tracked landing vehicles (LVTs), jam-packed with 4th Marine Division
troops, approach the Line of Departure at H-hour on D-day. In the
center rear can be seen the control vessels which attempted to maintain
order in the landing._]

This was simply the beginning. While the assault forces tried to
overcome the infantry weapons of the local defenders, they were
naturally blind to an almost imperceptible stirring taking place
among the rocks and crevices of the interior highlands. With grim
anticipation, General Kuribayashi’s gunners began unmasking the big
guns--the heavy artillery, giant mortars, rockets, and anti-tank
weapons held under tightest discipline for this precise moment.
Kuribayashi had patiently waited until the beaches were clogged with
troops and material. Gun crews knew the range and deflection to each
landing beach by heart; all weapons had been preregistered on these
targets long ago. At Kuribayashi’s signal, these hundreds of weapons
began to open fire. It was shortly after 1000.

[Illustration: _H-hour at Iwo Jima, 19 February 1945._

    Department of Defense Photo (USN) NH65311

The ensuing bombardment was as deadly and terrifying as any of
the Marines had ever experienced. There was hardly any cover.
Japanese artillery and mortar rounds blanketed every corner of
the 3,000-yard-wide beach. Large-caliber coast defense guns and
dual-purpose antiaircraft guns firing horizontally added a deadly
scissors of direct fire from the high ground on both flanks. Marines
stumbling over the terraces to escape the rain of projectiles
encountered the same disciplined machine-gun fire and mine fields which
had slowed the initial advance. Casualties mounted appallingly.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110109

_Marines of the 4th Division pour ashore from their landing craft on
Yellow and Blue Beaches on D-day. Enemy fire had not hit this assault
wave yet as it landed._]

[Illustration: _As soon as it hit the beach on the right side of the V
Amphibious Corps line, the 25th Marines was pinned down by accurate and
heavy enemy fire. Meanwhile, landing craft, supplies, and vehicles pile
up in the surf behind Marines._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110108


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 111691

_5th Division Marines land on Red and Green Beaches at the foot
of Mount Suribachi under heavy fire coming from enemy positions
overlooking the black sand terraces. The 28th Marines had not yet
wheeled to the left towards Suribachi._]

[Illustration: _With bullets and artillery shells screaming overhead,
Marines crawl along the beaches and dig into the soft volcanic ash for
cover from the deadly fire. Note the geyser of water as a shell lands
close to a landing craft headed into the beach._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 109618

Two Marine combat veterans observing this expressed a grudging
admiration for the Japanese gunners. “It was one of the worst
blood-lettings of the war,” said Major Karch of the 14th Marines.
“They rolled those artillery barrages up and down the beach--I just
didn’t see how anybody could live through such heavy fire barrages.”
Said Lieutenant Colonel Joseph L. Stewart, “The Japanese were superb
artillerymen.... Somebody was getting hit every time they fired.” At
sea, Lieutenant Colonel Weller tried desperately to deliver naval
gunfire against the Japanese gun positions shooting down at 3d
Battalion, 25th Marines, from the Rock Quarry. It would take longer to
coordinate this fire: the first Japanese barrages had wiped out the 3d
Battalion, 25th Marines’ entire Shore Fire Control Party.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 111115

_Marines pull their ammunition cart onto the beach from their broached
landing craft on D-day, all the while under heavy enemy fire. Some
troops did not make it._]

As the Japanese firing reached a general crescendo, the four assault
regiments issued dire reports to the flagship. Within a 10-minute
period, these messages crackled over the command net:

  1036: (From 25th Marines) “Catching all hell from the quarry. Heavy
  mortar and machine gun fire.”

  1039: (From 23d Marines) “Taking heavy casualties and can’t move
  for the moment. Mortars killing us.”

  1042: (From 27th Marines) “All units pinned down by artillery and
  mortars. Casualties heavy. Need tank support fast to move anywhere.”

  1046: (From 28th Marines) “Taking heavy fire and forward movement
  stopped. Machine gun and artillery fire heaviest ever seen.”

The landing force suffered and bled but did not panic. The profusion
of combat veterans throughout the rank and file of each regiment
helped the rookies focus on the objective. Communications remained
effective. Keen-eyed aerial observers spotted some of the now-exposed
gun positions and directed naval gunfire effectively. Carrier planes
screeched in low to drop napalm canisters. The heavy Japanese fire
would continue to take an awful toll throughout the first day and
night, but it would never again be so murderous as that first unholy

Marine Sherman tanks played hell getting into action on D-day. Later
in the battle these combat vehicles would be the most valuable weapons
on the battlefield for the Marines; this day was a nightmare. The
assault divisions embarked many of their tanks on board medium landing
ships (LSMs), sturdy little craft that could deliver five Shermans at
a time. But it was tough disembarking them on Iwo’s steep beaches. The
stern anchors could not hold in the loose sand; bow cables run forward
to “deadmen” LVTs parted under the strain. On one occasion the lead
tank stalled at the top of the ramp, blocking the other vehicles and
leaving the LSM at the mercy of the rising surf. Other tanks bogged
down or threw tracks in the loose sand. Many of those that made it
over the terraces were destroyed by huge horned mines or disabled by
deadly accurate 47mm anti-tank fire from Suribachi. Other tankers kept
coming. Their relative mobility, armored protection, and 75mm gunfire
were most welcome to the infantry scattered among Iwo’s lunar-looking,
shell-pocked landscape.

[Illustration: _Shore party Marines man steadying lines while others
unload combat cargo from boats broached in the surf. Note the jeep, one
of the first to come ashore, bogged down axle-deep in the soft black
volcanic ash, not to be moved till later._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110593

Both division commanders committed their reserves early. General Rockey
called in the 26th Marines shortly after noon. General Cates ordered
two battalions of the 24th Marines to land at 1400; the 3d Battalion,
24th Marines, followed several hours later. Many of the reserve
battalions suffered heavier casualties crossing the beach than the
assault units, a result of Kuribayashi’s punishing bombardment from all
points on the island.

Mindful of the likely Japanese counterattack in the night to come--and
despite the fire and confusion along the beaches--both divisions also
ordered their artillery regiments ashore. This process, frustrating
and costly, took much of the afternoon. The wind and surf began to
pick up as the day wore on, causing more than one low-riding DUKW to
swamp with its precious 105mm howitzer cargo. Getting the guns ashore
was one thing; getting them up off the sand was quite another. The
75mm pack howitzers fared better than the heavier 105s. Enough Marines
could readily hustle them up over the terraces, albeit at great risk.
The 105s seemed to have a mind of their own in the black sand. The
effort to get each single weapon off the beach was a saga in its own
right. Somehow, despite the fire and unforgiving terrain, both Colonel
Louis G. DeHaven, commanding the 14th Marines, and Colonel James D.
Waller, commanding the 13th Marines, managed to get batteries in place,
registered, and rendering close fire support well before dark, a
singular accomplishment.

Japanese fire and the plunging surf continued to make a shambles out of
the beachhead. Late in the afternoon, Lieutenant Michael F. Keleher,
USNR, the battalion surgeon, was ordered ashore to take over the 3d
Battalion, 25th Marines aid station from its gravely wounded surgeon.
Keleher, a veteran of three previous assault landings, was appalled
by the carnage on Blue Beach as he approached: “Such a sight on that
beach! Wrecked boats, bogged-down jeeps, tractors and tanks; burning
vehicles; casualties scattered all over.”


    Marine Corps Combat Art Collection

_In “Flotsam and Jetsam,” an acrylic painting on masonite by Col
Charles H. Waterhouse, he portrays the loss of his sergeant to mortar
fire on the beach on D-day._]

[Illustration: VAC FRONT LINES D-DAY

19 FEBRUARY 1945

28th MARINES ONLY, D PLUS 1, 2, 3]

On the left center of the action, leading his machine gun platoon in
the 1st Battalion, 27th Marines’ attack against the southern portion
of the airfield, the legendary “Manila John” Basilone fell mortally
wounded by a Japanese mortar shell, a loss keenly felt by all Marines
on the island. Farther east, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Galer, the
other Guadalcanal Medal of Honor Marine (and one of the Pacific War’s
earliest fighter aces), survived the afternoon’s fusillade along the
beaches and began reassembling his scattered radar unit in a deep shell
hole near the base of Suribachi.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 109601

_As D-day on Iwo Jima comes to a close, the landing beaches are scenes
of death and destruction with LVTs and landing craft wallowing in the
waves and tracked and wheeled vehicles kept out of action, unable to go

Late in the afternoon, Lieutenant Colonel Donn J. Robertson led his
3d Battalion, 27th Marines, ashore over Blue Beach, disturbed at the
intensity of fire still being directed on the reserve forces this late
on D-day. “They were really ready for us,” he recalled. He watched with
pride and wonderment as his Marines landed under fire, took casualties,
stumbled forward to clear the beach. “What impels a young guy landing
on a beach in the face of fire?” he asked himself. Then it was
Robertson’s turn. His boat hit the beach too hard; the ramp wouldn’t
drop. Robertson and his command group had to roll over the gunwales
into the churning surf and crawl ashore, an inauspicious start.

The bitter battle to capture the Rock Quarry cliffs on the right flank
raged all day. The beachhead remained completely vulnerable to enemy
direct-fire weapons from these heights; the Marines had to storm them
before many more troops or supplies could be landed. In the end, it
was the strength of character of Captain James Headley and Lieutenant
Colonel “Jumping Joe” Chambers who led the survivors of the 3d
Battalion, 25th Marines, onto the top of the cliffs. The battalion paid
an exorbitant price for this achievement, losing 22 officers and 500
troops by nightfall.

The two assistant division commanders, Brigadier Generals Franklin
A. Hart and Leo D. Hermle, of the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions
respectively, spent much of D-day on board the control vessels marking
both ends of the Line of Departure, 4,000 yards off shore. This
reflected yet another lesson in amphibious techniques learned from
Tarawa. Having senior officers that close to the ship-to-shore movement
provided landing force decision-making from the most forward vantage
point. By dusk General Hermle opted to come ashore. At Tarawa he had
spent the night of D-day essentially out of contact at the fire-swept
pierhead. This time he intended to be on the ground. Hermle had the
larger operational picture in mind, knowing the corps commander’s
desire to force the reserves and artillery units on shore despite the
carnage in order to build credible combat power. Hermle knew that
whatever the night might bring, the Americans now had more troops on
the island than Kuribayashi could ever muster. His presence helped his
division forget about the day’s disasters and focus on preparations for
the expected counterattacks.

Japanese artillery and mortar fire continued to rake the beachhead.
The enormous spigot mortar shells (called “flying ashcans” by the
troops) and rocket-boosted aerial bombs were particularly scary--loud,
whistling projectiles, tumbling end over end. Many sailed completely
over the island; those that hit along the beaches or the south runways
invariably caused dozens of casualties with each impact. Few Marines
could dig a proper foxhole in the granular sand (“like trying to dig a
hole in a barrel of wheat”). Among urgent calls to the control ship for
plasma, stretchers, and mortar shells came repeated cries for sand bags.

Veteran Marine combat correspondent Lieutenant Cyril P. Zurlinden, soon
to become a casualty himself, described that first night ashore:

  At Tarawa, Saipan, and Tinian, I saw Marines killed and wounded
  in a shocking manner, but I saw nothing like the ghastliness that
  hung over the Iwo beachhead. Nothing any of us had ever known could
  compare with the utter anguish, frustration, and constant inner
  battle to maintain some semblance of sanity.

Personnel accounting was a nightmare under those conditions, but the
assault divisions eventually reported the combined loss of 2,420 men
to General Schmidt (501 killed, 1,755 wounded, 47 dead of wounds, 18
missing, and 99 combat fatigue). These were sobering statistics, but
Schmidt now had 30,000 Marines ashore. The casualty rate of eight
percent left the landing force in relatively better condition than at
the first days at Tarawa or Saipan. The miracle was that the casualties
had not been twice as high. General Kuribayashi had possibly waited a
little too long to open up with his big guns.

The first night on Iwo was ghostly. Sulfuric mists spiraled out of
the earth. The Marines, used to the tropics, shivered in the cold,
waiting for Kuribayashi’s warriors to come screaming down from the
hills. They would learn that this Japanese commander was different.
There would be no wasteful, vainglorious _Banzai_ attack, this night
or any other. Instead, small teams of infiltrators, which Kuribayashi
termed “Prowling Wolves,” probed the lines, gathering intelligence.
A barge-full of Japanese _Special Landing Forces_ tried a small
counterlanding on the western beaches and died to the man under the
alert guns of the 28th Marines and its supporting LVT crews. Otherwise
the night was one of continuing waves of indirect fire from the
highlands. One high velocity round landed directly in the hole occupied
by the 1st Battalion, 23d Marines’ commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph
Haas, killing him instantly. The Marines took casualties throughout the
night. But with the first streaks of dawn, the veteran landing force
stirred. Five infantry regiments looked north; a sixth turned to the
business at hand in the south: Mount Suribachi.

[Sidebar (page 10): The Assault Commanders at Iwo Jima

Four veteran Marine major generals led the sustained assault on Iwo
Jima: Harry Schmidt, Commanding General, V Amphibious Corps; Graves
B. Erskine, CG, 3d Marine Division; Clifton B. Cates, CG, 4th Marine
Division; and Keller E. Rockey, CG, 5th Marine Division. Each would
receive the Distinguished Service Medal for inspired combat leadership
in this epic battle.

[Illustration: _MajGen Harry Schmidt, USMC_

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 11180

General Schmidt was 58 at Iwo Jima and had served the Corps for 36
years. He was a native of Holdrege, Nebraska, and attended Nebraska
Normal College. Expeditionary assignments kept him from service in
World War I, but Schmidt saw considerable small unit action in Guam,
China, the Philippines, Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua, plus four years
at sea. He attended the Army Command and General Staff College and
the Marine Corps Field Officers’ Course. In World War II, General
Schmidt commanded the 4th Marine Division in the Roi-Namur and Saipan
operations, then assumed command of V Amphibious Corps for the Tinian
landing. At Iwo Jima he would command the largest force of Marines ever
committed to a single battle. “It was the highest honor of my life,” he

[Illustration: _MajGen Graves B. Erskine, USMC_

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

General Erskine was 47 at Iwo Jima, one of the youngest major generals
in the Corps. He had served 28 years on active duty by that time.
A native of Columbia, Louisiana, he graduated from Louisiana State
University, received a Marine Corps commission, and immediately
deployed overseas for duty in World War I. As a platoon commander in
the 6th Marines, Erskine saw combat at Belleau Wood, Chateau-Thierry,
Soissons, and St. Mihiel, during which he was twice wounded and awarded
the Silver Star. In the inter-war years he served in Haiti, Santo
Domingo, Nicaragua, Cuba, and China. He attended the Army Infantry
School and the Army Command and General Staff College. In World War II,
Erskine was chief of staff to General Holland M. Smith during campaigns
in the Aleutians, Gilberts, Marshalls, and Marianas. He assumed command
of the 3d Marine Division in October 1944.

[Illustration: _MajGen Clifton B. Cates, USMC_

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 38595

General Cates, 51 at Iwo, had also served the Corps during the previous
28 years. He was one of the few Marine Corps general officers who
held combat command at the platoon, company, battalion, regiment,
and division levels in his career. Cates was born in Tiptonville,
Tennessee, and attended the University of Tennessee. In World War I,
he served as a junior officer in the 6th Marines at Belleau Wood,
Soissons, St. Mihiel, and Blanc Mont, and was awarded the Navy Cross,
two Silver Stars, and two Purple Hearts for his service and his wounds.
Between wars, he served at sea and twice in China. He attended the Army
Industrial College, the Senior Course at Marine Corps Schools, and
the Army War College. In World War II he commanded the 1st Marines at
Guadalcanal and the 4th Marine Division at Tinian. Three years after
Iwo Jima, General Cates became the 19th Commandant of the Marine Corps.

[Illustration: _MajGen Keller E. Rockey, USMC_

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) A32295

General Rockey was 56 at Iwo Jima and a veteran of 31 years of service
to the Corps. He was born in Columbia City, Indiana, graduated from
Gettysburg College, and studied at Yale. Like his fellow division
commanders, Rockey served in France in World War I. He was awarded the
Navy Cross as a junior officer in the 5th Marines at Chateau-Thierry. A
second Navy Cross came later for heroic service in Nicaragua. He also
served in Haiti and two years at sea. He attended the Field Officers’
Course at Quantico and the Army Command and General Staff Course. He
spent the first years of World War II at Headquarters Marine Corps in
Washington, first as Director, Division of Plans and Policies, then as
Assistant Commandant. In February 1944 General Rockey assumed command
of the 5th Marine Division and began preparing the new organization for
its first, and last, great battle of the war.

Three Marine brigadier generals also played significant roles in the
amphibious seizure of Iwo Jima: William W. Rogers, corps chief of
staff; Franklin A. Hart, assistant division commander, 4th Marine
Division; and Leo D. Hermle, assistant division commander, 5th Marine


The Japanese called the dormant volcano Suribachi-yama; the Marines
dubbed it “Hotrocks.” From the start the Marines knew their drive north
would never succeed without first seizing that hulking rock dominating
the southern plain. “Suribachi seemed to take on a life of its own,
to be watching these men, looming over them,” recalled one observer,
adding “the mountain represented to these Marines a thing more evil
than the Japanese.”

Colonel Kanehiko Atsuchi commanded the 2,000 soldiers and sailors of
the Suribachi garrison. The Japanese had honeycombed the mountain with
gun positions, machine-gun nests, observation sites, and tunnels, but
Atsuchi had lost many of his large-caliber guns in the direct naval
bombardment of the preceding three days. General Kuribayashi considered
Atsuchi’s command to be semiautonomous, realizing the invaders would
soon cut communications across the island’s narrow southern tip.
Kuribayashi nevertheless hoped Suribachi could hold out for 10 days,
maybe two weeks.

Some of Suribachi’s stoutest defenses existed down low, around the
rubble-strewn base. Here nearly 70 camouflaged concrete blockhouses
protected the approaches to the mountain; another 50 bulged from the
slopes within the first hundred feet of elevation. Then came the caves,
the first of hundreds the Marines would face on Iwo Jima.

The 28th Marines had suffered nearly 400 casualties in cutting
across the neck of the island on D-day. On D+1, in a cold rain, they
prepared to assault the mountain. Lieutenant Colonel Chandler Johnson,
commanding the 2d Battalion, 28th Marines, set the tone for the morning
as he deployed his tired troops forward: “It’s going to be a hell of a
day in a hell of a place to fight the damned war!” Some of the 105mm
batteries of the 13th Marines opened up in support, firing directly
overhead. Gun crews fired from positions hastily dug in the black sand
directly next to the 28th Marines command post. Regimental Executive
Officer Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Williams watched the cannoneers
fire at Suribachi “eight hundred yards away over open sights.”

[Illustration: _A dug-in Marine 81mm mortar crew places continuous fire
on Japanese positions around the slopes of Mount Suribachi preparatory
to the attack of the 28th Marines._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 109861

As the Marines would learn during their drive north, even 105mm
howitzers would hardly shiver the concrete pillboxes of the enemy.
As the prep fire lifted, the infantry leapt forward, only to run
immediately into very heavy machine-gun and mortar fire. Colonel
Harry B. “Harry the Horse” Liversedge bellowed for his tanks. But
the 5th Tank Battalion was already having a frustrating morning. The
tankers sought a defilade spot in which to rearm and refuel for the
day’s assault. Such a location did not exist on Iwo Jima those first
days. Every time the tanks congregated to service their vehicles they
were hit hard by Japanese mortar and artillery fire from virtually the
entire island. Getting sufficient vehicles serviced to join the assault
took most of the morning. Hereafter the tankers would maintain and
re-equip their vehicles at night.


    Colonel William P. McCahill Collection

_The crew of the Sherman tank “Cairo” awaits a repair crew to replace
its tread after it hit a Japanese mine. Note wooden sheathing on sides
of vehicle to protect against magnetic mines. Damaged vehicles became
prime enemy targets._]

This day’s slow start led to more setbacks for the tankers; Japanese
antitank gunners hiding in the jumbled boulders knocked out the first
approaching Shermans. Assault momentum slowed further. The 28th Marines
overran 40 strongpoints and gained roughly 200 yards all day. They
lost a Marine for every yard gained. The tankers unknowingly redeemed
themselves when one of their final 75mm rounds caught Colonel Atsuchi
as he peered out of a cave entrance, killing him instantly.

Elsewhere, the morning light on D+1 revealed the discouraging sights of
the chaos created along the beaches by the combination of Iwo Jima’s
wicked surf and Kuribayashi’s unrelenting barrages. In the words of one
dismayed observer:

  The wreckage was indescribable. For two miles the debris was
  so thick that there were only a few places where landing craft
  could still get in. The wrecked hulls of scores of landing boats
  testified to one price we had to pay to put our troops ashore.
  Tanks and half-tracks lay crippled where they had bogged down
  in the coarse sand. Amphibian tractors, victims of mines and
  well-aimed shells, lay flopped on their backs. Cranes, brought
  ashore to unload cargo, tilted at insane angles, and bulldozers
  were smashed in their own roadways.

Bad weather set in, further compounding the problems of general
unloading. Strong winds whipped sea swells into a nasty chop; the surf
turned uglier. These were the conditions faced by Lieutenant Colonel
Carl A. Youngdale in trying to land the 105mm-howitzer batteries of
his 4th Battalion, 14th Marines. All 12 of these guns were preloaded
in DUKWs, one to a vehicle. Added to the amphibious trucks’ problems
of marginal seaworthiness with that payload was contaminated fuel. As
Youngdale watched in horror, eight DUKWs suffered engine failures,
swamped, and sank with great loss of life. Two more DUKWs broached
in the surf zone, spilling their invaluable guns into deep water. At
length Youngdale managed to get his remaining two guns ashore and into
firing position.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110319

_Like some recently killed prehistoric monsters, these LVTs lie on
their sides, completely destroyed on the beach by Japanese mines and
heavy artillery fire._]

General Schmidt also committed one battery of 155mm howitzers of the
corps artillery to the narrow beachhead on D+1. Somehow these weapons
managed to reach the beach intact, but it then took hours to get
tractors to drag the heavy guns up over the terraces. These, too,
commenced firing before dark, their deep bark a welcome sound to the

Concern with the heavy casualties in the first 24 hours led Schmidt to
commit the 21st Marines from corps reserve. The seas proved to be too
rough. The troops had harrowing experiences trying to debark down cargo
nets into the small boats bobbing violently alongside the transports;
several fell into the water. The boating process took hours. Once
afloat, the troops circled endlessly in their small Higgins boats,
waiting for the call to land. Wiser heads prevailed. After six hours of
awful seasickness, the 21st Marines returned to its ships for the night.

Even the larger landing craft, the LCTs and LSMs, had great difficulty
beaching. Sea anchors needed to maintain the craft perpendicular to
the breakers rarely held fast in the steep, soft bottom. “Dropping
those stern anchors was like dropping a spoon in a bowl of mush,” said
Admiral Hill.

Hill contributed significantly to the development of amphibious
expertise in the Pacific War. For Iwo Jima, he and his staff developed
armored bulldozers to land in the assault waves. They also experimented
with hinged Marston matting, used for expeditionary airfields, as a
temporary roadway to get wheeled vehicles over soft sand. On the beach
at Iwo, the bulldozers proved to be worth their weights in gold. The
Marston matting was only partially successful--LVTs kept chewing it up
in passage--but all hands could see its potential.

[Illustration: _“Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” acrylic on
masonite, is by Col Charles H. Waterhouse, wounded in his arm on D+2
and evacuated from Iwo Jima._

    Marine Corps Combat Art Collection

Admiral Hill also worked with the Naval Construction Battalion (NCB)
personnel, Seabees, as they were called, in the attempt to bring
supply-laden causeways and pontoon barges ashore. Again the surf
prevailed, broaching the craft, spilling the cargo. In desperation,
Hill’s beachmasters turned to round-the-clock use of DUKWs and LVTs to
keep combat cargo flowing. Once the DUKWs got free of the crippling
load of 105mm howitzers they did fine. LVTs were probably better,
because they could cross the soft beach without assistance and conduct
resupply or medevac missions directly along the front lines. Both
vehicles suffered from inexperienced LST crews in the transport area
who too often would not lower their bow ramps to accommodate LVTs or
DUKWs approaching after dark. In too many cases, vehicles loaded with
wounded Marines thus rejected became lost in the darkness, ran out of
gas and sank. The amphibian tractor battalions lost 148 LVTs at Iwo
Jima. Unlike Tarawa, Japanese gunfire and mines accounted for less
than 20 percent of this total. Thirty-four LVTs fell victim to Iwo’s
crushing surf; 88 sank in deep water, mostly at night.

Once ashore and clear of the loose sand along the beaches, the tanks,
half-tracks, and armored bulldozers of the landing force ran into
the strongest minefield defenses yet encountered in the Pacific War.
Under General Kuribayashi’s direction, Japanese engineers had planted
irregular rows of antitank mines and the now-familiar horned antiboat
mines along all possible exits from both beaches. The Japanese
supplemented these weapons by rigging enormous makeshift explosives
from 500-pound aerial bombs, depth charges, and torpedo heads, each
triggered by an accompanying pressure mine. Worse, Iwo’s loose soil
retained enough metallic characteristics to render the standard mine
detectors unreliable. The Marines were reduced to using their own
engineers on their hands and knees out in front of the tanks, probing
for mines with bayonets and wooden sticks.

While the 28th Marines fought to encircle Suribachi and the
beachmasters and shore party attempted to clear the wreckage from
the beaches, the remaining assault units of the VAC resumed their
collective assault against Airfield No. 1. In the 5th Marine Division’s
zone, the relatively fresh troops of the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines,
and the 3d Battalion, 27th Marines, quickly became bloodied in forcing
their way across the western runways, taking heavy casualties from
time-fuzed air bursts fired by Japanese dual-purpose antiaircraft guns
zeroed along the exposed ground. In the adjacent 4th Division zone, the
23d Marines completed the capture of the airstrip, advancing 800 yards
but sustaining high losses.


    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_Marines advance warily on Airfield No. 1 towards wrecked Japanese
planes in which enemy snipers are suspected of hiding. The assault
quickly moved on._]

Some of the bitterest fighting in the initial phase of the landing
continued to occur along the high ground above the Rock Quarry on the
right flank. Here the 25th Marines, reinforced by the 1st Battalion,
24th Marines, engaged in literally the fight of its life. The Marines
found the landscape, and the Japanese embedded in it, unreal:

  There was no cover from enemy fire. Japs dug in reinforced concrete
  pillboxes laid down interlocking bands of fire that cut whole
  companies to ribbons. Camouflage hid all enemy positions. The high
  ground on either side was honeycombed with layer after layer of Jap
  emplacements.... Their observation was perfect; whenever a Marine
  made a move, the Japs would smother the area in a murderous blanket
  of fire.

The second day of the battle had proven unsatisfactory on virtually
every front. To cap off the frustration, when the 1st Battalion, 24th
Marines, finally managed a breakthrough along the cliffs late in the
day their only reward was two back-to-back cases of “friendly fire.” An
American air strike inflicted 11 casualties; misguided salvos from an
unidentified gunfire support ship took down 90 more. Nothing seemed to
be going right.

The morning of the third day, D+2, seemed to promise more of the same
frustrations. Marines shivered in the cold wind and rain; Admiral Hill
twice had to close the beach due to high surf and dangerous undertows.
But during one of the grace periods, the 3d Division’s 21st Marines
managed to come ashore, all of it extremely glad to be free of the
heaving small boats. General Schmidt assigned it to the 4th Marine
Division at first.

The 28th Marines resumed its assault on the base of Suribachi, more
slow, bloody fighting, seemingly boulder by boulder. On the west coast,
the 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, made the most of field artillery and
naval gunfire support to reach the shoulder of the mountain. Elsewhere,
murderous Japanese fire restricted any progress to a matter of yards.
Enemy mortar fire from all over the volcano rained down on the 2d
Battalion, 28th Marines, trying to advance along the eastern shore.
Recalled rifleman Richard Wheeler of the experience, “It was terrible,
the worst I can remember us taking. The Jap mortarmen seemed to be
playing checkers and using us as squares.” The Marines used Weasels,
handy little tracked vehicles making their first field appearance in
this battle, to hustle forward flame-thrower canisters and evacuate
some of the many wounded.


    Colonel William P. McCahill Collection

_Flamethrower teams look like futuristic fighters as they leave their
assembly area heading for the front lines. The casualty rate for
flamethrower operators was high, since they were prime targets for
Japanese fire because of the profile they had with the flamethrowers
strapped to their backs. When they fell, others took their places._]

That night the amphibious task force experienced the only significant
air attack of the battle. Fifty _kamikaze_ pilots from the _22d Mitate
Special Attack Unit_ left Katori Airbase near Yokosuka and flung
themselves against the ships on the outer perimeter of Iwo Jima. In
desperate action that would serve as a prelude to Okinawa’s fiery
engagements, the _kamikazes_ sank the escort carrier _Bismarck Sea_
with heavy loss of life and damaged several other ships, including the
veteran _Saratoga_, finally knocked out of the war. All 50 Japanese
planes were expended.

It rained even harder on the fourth morning, D+3. Marines scampering
forward under fire would hit the deck, roll, attempt to return
fire--only to discover that the loose volcanic grit had combined with
the rain to jam their weapons. The 21st Marines, as the vanguard
of the 3d Marine Division, hoped for good fortune in its initial
commitment after relieving the 23d Marines. The regiment instead ran
headlong into an intricate series of Japanese emplacements which marked
the southeastern end of the main Japanese defenses. The newcomers
fought hard all day to scratch and claw an advance of 200 net yards.
Casualties were disproportionate.

[Illustration: _In the attack of the 28th Marines on the dominating
height, a 37mm guncrew fires at caves at the foot of Suribachi
suspected of holding Japanese gun positions._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110139

On the right flank, Lieutenant Colonel Chambers continued to rally
the 3d Battalion, 25th Marines, through the rough pinnacles above the
Rock Quarry. As he strode about directing the advance of his decimated
companies that afternoon, a Japanese gunner shot him through the chest.
Chambers went down hard, thinking it was all over:

  I started fading in and out. I don’t remember too much about it
  except the frothy blood gushing out of my mouth.... Then somebody
  started kicking the hell out of my feet. It was [Captain James]
  Headley saying, “Get up, you were hurt worse on Tulagi!”

Captain Headley knew Chambers’ sucking chest wound portended a grave
injury; he sought to reduce his commander’s shock until they could get
him out of the line of fire. This took doing. Lieutenant Michael F.
Keleher, USNR, now the battalion surgeon, crawled forward with one of
his corpsmen. Willing hands lifted Chambers on a stretcher. Keleher
and several others, bent double against the fire, carried him down
the cliffs to the aid station and eventually on board a DUKW making
the evening’s last run out to the hospital ships. All three battalion
commanders in the 25th Marines had now become casualties. Chambers
would survive to receive the Medal of Honor; Captain Headley would
command the shot-up 3d Battalion, 25th Marines, for the duration of the


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110177

_From the time of the landing on Iwo Jima, attacking Marines seemed to
be moving uphill constantly. This scene is located between Purple Beach
and Airfield No. 2._]

[Illustration: _A lone Marine covers the left flank of a patrol as
it works its way up the slopes of Mount Suribachi. It was from this
vantage point on the enemy-held height that Japanese gunners and
observers had a clear view of the landing beaches._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) A419744

By contrast, the 28th Marines on D+3 made commendable progress against
Suribachi, reaching the shoulder at all points. Late in the day combat
patrols from the 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, and the 2d Battalion,
28th Marines, linked up at Tobiishi Point at the southern tip of the
island. Recon patrols returned to tell Lieutenant Colonel Johnson that
they found few signs of live Japanese along the mountain’s upper slopes
on the northside.

At sundown Admiral Spruance authorized Task Force 58 to strike Honshu
and Okinawa, then retire to Ulithi to prepare for the Ryukyuan
campaign. All eight Marine Corps fighter squadrons thus left the Iwo
Jima area for good. Navy pilots flying off the 10 remaining escort
carriers would pick up the slack. Without slighting the skill and
valor of these pilots, the quality of close air support to the troops
fighting ashore dropped off after this date. The escort carriers, for
one thing, had too many competing missions, namely combat air patrols,
anti-submarine sweeps, searches for downed aviators, harassing strikes
against neighboring Chichi Jima. Marines on Iwo Jima complained of slow
response time to air support requests, light payloads (rarely greater
than 100-pound bombs), and high delivery altitudes (rarely below 1,500
feet). The Navy pilots did deliver a number of napalm bombs. Many
of these failed to detonate, although this was not the fault of the
aviators; the early napalm “bombs” were simply old wing-tanks filled
with the mixture, activated by unreliable detonators. The Marines also
grew concerned about these notoriously inaccurate area weapons being
dropped from high altitudes.

By Friday, 23 February (D+4), the 28th Marines stood poised to complete
the capture of Mount Suribachi. The honor went to the 3d Platoon
(reinforced), Company E, 2d Battalion, 28th Marines, under the command
of First Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier, the company executive officer.
Lieutenant Colonel Johnson ordered Schrier to scale the summit, secure
the crater, and raise a 54″×28″ American flag for all to see. Schrier
led his 40-man patrol forward at 0800. The regiment had done its job,
blasting the dozens of pillboxes with flame and demolitions, rooting
out snipers, knocking out the masked batteries. The combined-arms
pounding by planes, field pieces, and naval guns the past week had
likewise taken its toll on the defenders. Those who remained popped out
of holes and caves to resist Schrier’s advance only to be cut down. The
Marines worked warily up the steep northern slope, sometimes resorting
to crawling on hands and knees.

Part of the enduring drama of the Suribachi flag-raising was the fact
that it was observed by so many people. Marines all over the island
could track the progress of the tiny column of troops during its ascent
(“those guys oughta be getting flight pay,” said one wag). Likewise,
hundreds of binoculars from the ships offshore watched Schrier’s
Marines climbing ever upward. Finally they reached the top and
momentarily disappeared from view. Those closest to the volcano could
hear distant gunfire. Then, at 1020, there was movement on the summit;
suddenly the Stars and Stripes fluttered bravely.

Lusty cheers rang out from all over the southern end of the island. The
ships sounded their sirens and whistles. Wounded men propped themselves
up on their litters to glimpse the sight. Strong men wept unashamedly.
Navy Secretary Forrestal, thrilled by the sight, turned to Holland
Smith and said, “the raising of that flag means a Marine Corps for
another five hundred years.”

Three hours later an even larger flag went up to more cheers. Few
would know that Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal had just
captured the embodiment of the American warfighting spirit on film.
_Leatherneck_ magazine photographer Staff Sergeant Lou Lowery had
taken a picture of the first flag-raising and almost immediately got
in a firefight with a couple of enraged Japanese. His photograph would
become a valued collector’s item. But Rosenthal’s would enthrall the
free world.

Captain Thomas M. Fields, commanding Company D, 1st Battalion, 26th
Marines, heard his men yell “Look up there!” and turned in time to see
the first flag go up. His first thought dealt with the battle still at
hand: “Thank God the Japs won’t be shooting us down from behind any
more.” Meanwhile, the 14th Marines rushed their echo and flash-ranging
equipment up to the summit. The landing force sorely needed enhanced
counterbattery fire against Kuribayashi’s big guns to the north.

The Marines who raised the first flag were Lieutenant Schrier; Platoon
Sergeant Ernest T. Thomas, Jr.; Sergeant Henry O. Hansen; Corporal
Charles W. Lindberg; and Privates First Class Louis C. Charlo and James
Michels. The six men immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the
second flag-raising were Sergeant Michael Strank, Pharmacist’s Mate 2/c
John H. Bradley, Corporal Harlon H. Block, and Privates First Class Ira
H. Hayes, Franklin R. Sousley, and Rene A. Gagnon.

The 28th Marines took Suribachi in three days at the cost of more than
500 troops (added to its D-day losses of 400 men). Colonel Liversedge
began to reorient his regiment for operations in the opposite
direction, northward. Unknown to all, the battle still had another
month to run its bloody course.

[Sidebar (page 26): Rosenthal’s Photograph of Iwo Jima Flag-Raising
Quickly Became One of the War’s Most Famous

[Illustration: _The six men who participated in the second or “famous”
flag-raising on Mount Suribachi were Marines, joined by a medical
corpsman. They were Sgt Michael Strank; Pharmacist’s Mate 2/c John H.
Bradley, USN; Cpl Harlon H. Block; and PFCs Ira H. Hayes, Franklin R.
Sousley, and Rene A. Gagnon. AP photographer Joe Rosenthal recalls
stumbling on the picture accidentally: “I swung my camera around and
held it until I could guess that this was the peak of the action,
and shot.... Had I posed that shot, I would, of course, have ruined
it.... I would have also made them turn their heads so that they could
be identified ... and nothing like the existing picture would have

    Associated Press

There were two flags raised over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, but not
at the same time. Despite the beliefs of many, and contrary to the
supposed evidence, none of the photographs of the two flag-raisings
was posed. To begin with, early on the morning of 23 February 1945,
four days after the initial landings, Captain Dave E. Severance, the
commander of Company E, 2d Battalion, 28th Marines, ordered Lieutenant
Harold G. Schrier to take a patrol and an American flag to the top of
Suribachi. Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery, a _Leatherneck_ magazine
photographer, accompanied the patrol. After a short fire fight, the
54″-by-28″ flag was attached to a long piece of pipe, found at the
crest of the mountain, and raised. This is the flag-raising which
Lowery photographed. As the flag was thought to be too small to be
seen from the beach below, another Marine from the battalion went on
board _LST 779_ to obtain a larger flag. A second patrol then took
this flag up to Suribachi’s top and Joe Rosenthal, an Associated Press
photographer, who had just come ashore, accompanied it.

As Rosenthal noted in his oral history interview, “... my stumbling on
that picture was, in all respects, accidental.” When he got to the top
of the mountain, he stood in a decline just below the crest of the hill
with Marine Sergeant William Genaust, a movie cameraman who was killed
later in the campaign, watching while a group of five Marines and a
Navy corpsman fastened the new flag to another piece of pipe. Rosenthal
said that he turned from Genaust and out of the corner of his eye saw
the second flag being raised. He said, “Hey, Bill. There it goes.” He
continued: “I swung my camera around and held it until I could guess
that this was the peak of the action, and shot.”

Some people learned that Rosenthal’s photograph was of a second
flag-raising and made the accusation that it was posed. Joe Rosenthal:
“Had I posed that shot, I would, of course, have ruined it.... I would
have also made them turn their heads so that they could be identified
for [Associated Press] members throughout the country, and nothing like
the existing picture would have resulted.”

Later in the interview, he said: “This picture, what it means to
me--and it has a meaning to me--that has to be peculiar only to me
... I see all that blood running down the sand. I see those awful,
impossible positions to take in a frontal attack on such an island,
where the batteries opposing you are not only staggered up in front
of you, but also standing around at the sides as you’re coming on
shore. The awesome situation, before they ever reach that peak. Now,
that a photograph can serve to remind us of the contribution of those
boys--that was what made it important, not who took it.”

Rosenthal took 18 photographs that day, went down to the beach to
write captions for his undeveloped film packs, and, as the other
photographers on the island, sent his films out to the command vessel
offshore. From there they were flown to Guam, where the headquarters of
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet/Commander
in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, was situated, and where the photos were
processed and censored. Rosenthal’s pictures arrived at Guam before
Lowery’s, were processed, sent to the States for distribution, and his
flag-raising picture became one of the most famous photographs ever
taken in the war, or in any war.--_Benis M. Frank_

_The Drive North_

The landing force still had much to learn about its opponent. Senior
intelligence officers did not realize until 27 February, the ninth day
of the battle, that General Kuribayashi was in fact on Iwo Jima, or
that his fighters actually numbered half again the original estimate of

For Kuribayashi, the unexpectedly early loss of the Suribachi garrison
represented a setback, yet he occupied a position of great strength.
He still had the equivalent of eight infantry battalions, a tank
regiment, two artillery and three heavy mortar battalions, plus the
5,000 gunners and naval infantry under his counterpart, Rear Admiral
Toshinosuke Ichimaru. Unlike other besieged garrisons in the Central
Pacific, the two Japanese services on Iwo Jima functioned well together.


    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_Marine half-track scores a hit on a Japanese strongpoint with its 75mm

Kuribayashi was particularly pleased with the quality of his artillery
and engineering troops. Colonel Chosaku Kaido served as Chief of
Artillery from his seemingly impregnable concrete blockhouse on a
promontory on the east central sector of the Motoyama Plateau, a lethal
landmark the Marines soon dubbed “Turkey Knob.” Major General Sadasue
Senda, a former artillery officer with combat experience in China and
Manchuria, commanded the _2d Independent Mixed Brigade_, whose main
units would soon be locked into a 25-day death struggle with the 4th
Marine Division. Kuribayashi knew that the _204th Naval Construction
Battalion_ had built some of the most daunting defensive systems on
the island in that sector. One cave had a tunnel 800 feet long with 14
separate exits; it was one of hundreds designed to be defended in depth.

The Japanese defenders waiting for the advance of the V Amphibious
Corps were well armed and confident. Occasionally Kuribayashi
authorized company-sized spoiling attacks to recapture lost terrain
or disrupt enemy assault preparations. These were not suicidal or
sacrificial. Most were preceded by stinging artillery and mortar
fires and aimed at limited objectives. Kuribayashi’s iron will kept
his troops from large-scale, wasteful _Banzai_ attacks until the last
days. One exception occurred the night of 8 March when General Senda
grew so frustrated at the tightening noose being applied by the 4th
Marine Division that he led 800 of his surviving troops in a ferocious
counterattack. Finally given a multitude of open targets, the Marines
cut them down in a lingering melee.

For the first week of the drive north, the Japanese on Iwo Jima
actually had the attacking Marines outgunned. Japanese 150mm howitzers
and 120mm mortars were superior to most of the weapons of the landing
force. The Marines found the enemy direct fire weapons to be equally
deadly, especially the dual-purpose antiaircraft guns and the 47mm
tank guns, buried and camouflaged up to their turrets. “The Japs could
_snipe_ with those big guns,” said retired Lieutenant General Donn J.
Robertson. The defenders also had the advantage of knowing the ground.

[Illustration: _The drive north by the 3d Battalion, 28th Marines,
enters rugged terrain. Under heavy Japanese fire, this attack netted
only 200 yards despite supporting fires._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 111988

Not surprisingly, most casualties in the first three weeks of the
battle resulted from high explosives: mortars, artillery, mines,
grenades, and the hellacious rocket bombs. _Time_ correspondent Robert
Sherrod reported that the dead at Iwo Jima, both Japanese and American,
had one thing in common: “They all died with the greatest possible
violence. Nowhere in the Pacific War had I seen such badly mangled
bodies. Many were cut squarely in half.”

Close combat was rough enough; on Iwo Jima the stress seemed endless
because for a long time the Marines had no secure “rear area” in which
to give shot-up troop units a respite. Kuribayashi’s gunners throughout
the Motoyama Plateau could still bracket the beaches and airfields.
The enormous spigot mortar shells and rocket bombs still came tumbling
out of the sky. Japanese infiltrators were drawn to “softer targets”
in the rear. Anti-personnel mines and booby traps, encountered here on
a large scale for the first time in the Pacific, seemed everywhere.
Exhausted troop units would stumble out of the front lines seeking
nothing more than a helmet-full of water in which to bathe and a deep
hole in which to sleep. Too often the men had to spend their rare
rest periods repairing weapons, humping ammo, dodging major-caliber
incoming, or having to repel yet another nocturnal Japanese probe.

General Schmidt planned to attack the Japanese positions in the north
with three divisions abreast, the 5th on the left, the 3d (less the 3d
Marines) in the center, and the 4th on the right, along the east coast.
The drive north officially began on D+5, the day after the capture of
Suribachi. Prep fires along the high ground immediately north of the
second airfield extended for a full hour. Then three regimental combat
teams moved out abreast, the 26th Marines on the left, the 24th Marines
on the right, and the 21st Marines again in the middle. For this
attack, General Schmidt consolidated the Sherman tanks of all three
divisions into one armored task force commanded by Lieutenant Colonel
William R. “Rip” Collins. It would be the largest concentration of
Marine tanks in the war, virtually an armored regiment. The attack plan
seemed solid.

The Marines soon realized they were now trying to force passage
through Kuribayashi’s main defensive belt. The well-coordinated attack
degenerated into desperate, small-unit actions all along the front. The
26th Marines on the left, aided by the tanks, gained the most yardage,
but it was all relative. The airfield runways proved to be lethal
killing zones. Marine tanks were bedeviled by mines and high-velocity
direct fire weapons all along the front. On the right flank, Lieutenant
Colonel Alexander A. Vandegrift, Jr., son of the Commandant, became a
casualty. Major Doyle A. Stout took command of the 3d Battalion, 24th

During the fighting on D+5, General Schmidt took leave of Admiral Hill
and moved his command post ashore from the amphibious force flagship
_Auburn_ (AGC 10). Colonel Howard N. Kenyon led his 9th Marines ashore
and into a staging area. With that, General Erskine moved the command
post of the 3d Marine Division ashore; the 21st Marines reverted to its
parent command. Erskine’s artillery regiment, the 12th Marines under
Lieutenant Colonel Raymond F. Crist, Jr., continued to land for the
next several days. Schmidt now had eight infantry regiments committed.
Holland Smith still retained the 3d Marines in Expeditionary Troops
reserve. Schmidt made the first of several requests to Smith for
release of this seasoned outfit. The V Amphibious Corps had already
suffered 6,845 casualties.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110604

_Expended shells and open ammunition boxes testify to the heavy
supporting fire this water-cooled, .30-caliber Browning machine gun
poured on the enemy as Marines advanced in the furious and difficult
battle for the heights of Suribachi._]

The next day, D+6, 25 February, provided little relief in terms of
Japanese resistance. Small groups of Marines, accompanied by tanks,
somehow made it across the runway, each man harboring the inescapable
feeling he was alone in the middle of a gigantic bowling alley.
Sometimes holding newly gained positions across the runway proved
more deadly than the process of getting there. Resupply became nearly
impossible. Tanks were invaluable; many were lost.

Schmidt this day managed to get on shore the rest of his corps
artillery, two battalions of 155mm howitzers under Colonel John
S. Letcher. Well-directed fire from these heavier field pieces
eased some of the pressure. So did call fire from the cruisers and
destroyers assigned to each maneuver unit. But the Marines expressed
disappointment in their air support. The 3d Marine Division complained
that the Navy’s assignment of eight fighters and eight bombers on
station was “entirely inadequate.” By noon on this date General Cates
sent a message to Schmidt requesting that “the Strategic Air Force in
the Marianas replace Navy air support immediately.” Colonel Vernon E.
Megee, now ashore as Air Commander Iwo Jima and taking some of the heat
from frustrated division commanders, blamed “those little spit-kit
Navy fighters up there, trying to help, never enough, never where they
should be.”

In fairness, it is doubtful whether any service could have provided
effective air support during the opening days of the drive north. The
Air Liaison Parties with each regiment played hell trying to identify
and mark targets, the Japanese maintained masterful camouflage,
frontline units were often “eyeball-to-eyeball” with the enemy, and
the air support request net was overloaded. The Navy squadrons rising
from the decks of escort carriers improved thereafter, to the extent
that their conflicting missions would permit. Subsequent strikes
featured heavier bombs (up to five hundred pounds) and improved
response time. A week later General Cates rated his air support
“entirely satisfactory.” The battle of Iwo Jima, however, would
continue to frustrate all providers of supporting arms; the Japanese
almost never assembled legitimate targets in the open.

“The Japs weren’t _on_ Iwo Jima,” said Captain Fields of the 26th
Marines, “they were _in_ Iwo Jima.”

Richard Wheeler, who survived service with the 28th Marines and
later wrote two engrossing books about the battle, pointed out this

  This was surely one of the strangest battlefields in history, with
  one side fighting wholly above the ground and the other operating
  almost wholly within it. Throughout the battle, American aerial
  observers marveled at the fact that one side of the field held
  thousands of figures, either milling around or in foxholes, while
  the other side seemed deserted. The strangest thing of all was that
  the two contestants sometimes made troop movements simultaneously
  in the same territory, one maneuvering on the surface and the other
  using tunnels beneath.

As the Marines struggled to wrest the second airfield from the
Japanese, the commanding terrain features rising to the north caught
their attention. Some would become known by their elevations (although
there were _three_ Hill 362s on the island), but others would take
the personality and nicknames assigned by the attackers. Hence,
the 4th Marine Division would spend itself attacking Hill 382, the
“Amphitheater,” and “Turkey Knob” (the whole bristling complex became
known as “The Meatgrinder”). The 5th Division would earn its spurs and
lose most of its invaluable cadre of veteran leaders attacking Nishi
Ridge and Hills 362-A and 362-B, then end the fighting in “The Gorge.”
The 3d Division would focus first on Hills Peter and 199-Oboe, just
north of the second airfield, then the heavily fortified Hill 362-C
beyond the third airstrip, and finally the moonscape jungle of stone
which would become known as “Cushman’s Pocket.”

Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Cushman, Jr., a future Commandant,
commanded the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines at Iwo Jima. Cushman and his
men were veterans of heavy fighting in Guam, yet they were appalled
by their first sight of the battlefield. Wrecked and burning Sherman
tanks dotted the airstrips, a stream of casualties flowed to the rear,
“the machine-gun fire was terrific.” Cushman mounted his troops on the
surviving tanks and roared across the field. There they met the same
reverse-slope defenses which had plagued the 21st Marines. Securing
the adjoining two small hills--Peter and 199-Oboe--took the 3d Marine
Division three more days of intensely bitter fighting.

General Schmidt, considering the 3d Division attack in the center
to be his main effort, provided priority fire support from Corps
artillery, and directed the other two divisions to allocate half their
own regimental fire support to the center. None of the commanders was
happy with this. Neither the 4th Division, taking heavy casualties
in The Amphitheater as it approached Hill 382, nor the 5th Division,
struggling to seize Nishi Ridge, wanted to dilute their organic fire
support. Nor was General Erskine pleased with the results. The main
effort, he argued, should clearly receive the main fire. Schmidt never
did solve this problem. His Corps artillery was too light; he needed
twice as many battalions and bigger guns--up to 8-inch howitzers, which
the Marine Corps had not yet fielded. He had plenty of naval gunfire
support available and used it abundantly, but unless the targets lay
in ravines facing to the sea he lost the advantage of direct, observed

[Illustration: _“The Grenade,” an acrylic painting on canvas by Col
Charles H. Waterhouse._

    Marine Corps Combat Art Collection

Schmidt’s problems of fire support distribution received some
alleviation on 26 February when two Marine observation planes flew
in from the escort carrier _Wake Island_, the first aircraft to land
on Iwo’s recaptured and still fire-swept main airstrip. These were
Stinson OY single-engine observation planes, nicknamed “Grasshoppers,”
of Lieutenant Tom Rozga’s Marine Observation Squadron (VMO) 4, and
they were followed the next day by similar planes from Lieutenant
Roy G. Miller’s VMO-5. The intrepid pilots of these frail craft had
already had an adventurous time in the waters off Iwo Jima. Several
had been launched precariously from the experimental Brodie catapult
on _LST 776_, “like a peanut from a slingshot.” All 14 of the planes
of these two observation squadrons would receive heavy Japanese fire
in battle, not only while airborne but also while being serviced on
the airstrips as well. Yet these two squadrons (and elements of VMO-1)
would fly nearly 600 missions in support of all three divisions. Few
units contributed so much to the eventual suppression of Kuribayashi’s
deadly artillery fire. In time the mere presence of these small planes
overhead would influence Japanese gunners to cease fire and button
up against the inevitable counterbattery fire to follow. Often the
pilots would undertake pre-dawn or dusk missions simply to extend this
protective “umbrella” over the troops, risky flying given Iwo’s unlit
fields and constant enemy sniping from the adjacent hills.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110922

_A Marine dashes past a fallen Japanese killed a short time earlier,
all the while himself a target of searching enemy fire, during heavy
fighting in the north._]

The 4th Marine Division finally seized Hill 382, the highest point
north of Suribachi, but continued to take heavy casualties moving
through The Amphitheater against Turkey Knob. The 5th Division overran
Nishi Ridge, then bloodied itself against Hill 362-A’s intricate
defenses. Said Colonel Thomas A. Wornham, commanding the 27th Marines,
of these defenses: “They had interlocking bands of fire the likes of
which you never saw.” General Cates redeployed the 28th Marines into
this slugfest. On 2 March a Japanese gunner fired a high-velocity shell
which killed Lieutenant Colonel Chandler Johnson immediately, one week
after his glorious seizure of Suribachi’s summit. The 28th Marines
captured Hill 362-A at the cost of 200 casualties.

On the same day Lieutenant Colonel Lowell E. English, commanding the
2d Battalion, 21st Marines, went down with a bullet through his knee.
English was bitter. His battalion was being rotated to the rear. “We
had taken very heavy casualties and were pretty well disorganized. I
had less than 300 men left out of the 1200 I came ashore with.” English
then received orders to turn his men around and plug a gap in the front
lines. “It was an impossible order. I couldn’t move that disorganized
battalion a mile back north in 30 minutes.” General Erskine did not
want excuses. “You tell that damned English he’d better be there,” he
told the regimental commander. English fired back, “You tell that son
of a bitch I will be there, and I was, but my men were still half a
mile behind me and I got a blast through the knee.”

On the left flank, the 26th Marines mounted its most successful, and
bloodiest, attack of the battle, finally seizing Hill 362-B. The
day-long struggle cost 500 Marine casualties and produced five Medals
of Honor. For Captain Frank C. Caldwell, commanding Company F, 1st
Battalion, 26th Marines, it was the worst single day of the battle. His
company suffered 47 casualties in taking the hill, including the first
sergeant and the last of the original platoon commanders.

Overall, the first nine days of the V Amphibious Corps drive north had
produced a net gain of about 4,000 yards at the staggering cost of
7,000 American casualties. Several of the pitched battles--Airfield
No. 2, Hill 382, Hill 362-B, for example--would of themselves warrant
a separate commemorative monograph. The fighting in each case was as
savage and bloody as any in Marine Corps history.

[Illustration: _“Fire in the Hole,” an acrylic painting on untempered
masonite by Col Charles H. Waterhouse, reflects the extensive use of
TNT to blast Japanese caves._

    Marine Corps Combat Art Collection

This was the general situation previously described at the unsuspected
“turning point” on 4 March (D+13) when, despite sustaining frightful
losses, the Marines had chewed through a substantial chunk of
Kuribayashi’s main defenses, forcing the enemy commander to shift his
command post to a northern cave. This was the afternoon the first
crippled B-29 landed. In terms of American morale, it could not have
come at a better time. General Schmidt ordered a general standdown on
5 March to enable the exhausted assault forces a brief respite and the
opportunity to absorb some replacements.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 111933

_The 3d Battalion, 28th Marines, finds the terrain on Iwo Jima more
broken and forbidding than the black sands of the beaches as they
advance in a frontal attack northward against unremitting fire from
determined Japanese troops._]

The issue of replacement troops during the battle remains controversial
even half a century later. General Schmidt, now faced with losses
approaching the equivalent of one entire division, again urged General
Smith to release the 3d Marines. While each division had been assigned
a replacement draft of several thousand Marines, Schmidt wanted the
cohesion and combat experience of Colonel James M. Stuart’s regimental
combat team. Holland Smith believed that the replacement drafts would
suffice, presuming that each man in these hybrid units had received
sufficient infantry training to enable his immediate assignment to
front-line outfits. The problem lay in distributing the replacements in
small, arbitrary numbers--not as teamed units--to fill the gaping holes
in the assault battalions. The new men, expected to replace invaluable
veterans of the Pacific War, were not only new to combat, but they
also were new to each other, an assortment of strangers lacking the
life-saving bonds of unit integrity. “They get killed the day they
go into battle,” said one division personnel officer in frustration.
Replacement losses within the first 48 hours of combat were, in fact,
appalling. Those who survived, who learned the ropes and established a
bond with the veterans, contributed significantly to the winning of the
battle. The division commanders, however, decried the wastefulness of
this policy and urged unit replacements by the veteran battalions of
the 3d Marines. As General Erskine recalled:

  I asked the question of Kelly Turner and Holland Smith and the
  usual answer was, “You got enough Marines on the island now; there
  are too damn many here.” I said, “The solution is very easy. Some
  of these people are very tired and worn out, so take them out and
  bring in the 3d Marines.” And they practically said, “You keep
  quiet--we’ve made the decision.” And that was that.

Most surviving senior officers agreed that the decision not to use the
3d Marines at Iwo Jima was ill-advised and costly. But Holland Smith
never wavered: “Sufficient troops were on Iwo Jima for the capture
of the island ... two regiments were sufficient to cover the front
assigned to General Erskine.” On 5 March, D+14, Smith ordered the 3d
Marines to sail back to Guam.


    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_“Turkey Knob,” the outcropping which anchored the positions of the
Japanese_ 2d Mixed Brigade _against the advance of the 4th Marine
Division for many days, was sketched by Cpl Daniel L. Winsor, Jr.,
USMCR, S-2 Section, 25th Marines._]

[Illustration: _Weary troops of Company G, 2d Battalion, 24th Marines,
rest in a ditch, guarded by a Sherman tank. They are waiting for the
tanks to move forward to blast the numerous pillboxes between Motoyama
Airfields No. 1 and No. 2._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 109666

Holland Smith may have known the overall statistics of battle losses
sustained by the landing force to that point, but he may not have
fully appreciated the tremendous attrition of experienced junior
officers and senior staff noncommissioned officers taking place every
day. As one example, the day after the 3d Marines, many of whose
members were veterans of Bougainville and Guam, departed the amphibious
objective area, Company E, 2d Battalion, 23d Marines, suffered the loss
of its seventh company commander since the battle began. Likewise,
Lieutenant Colonel Cushman’s experiences with the 2d Battalion, 9th
Marines, seemed typical:

  The casualties were fierce. By the time Iwo Jima was over I had
  gone through two complete sets of platoon leaders, lieutenants.
  After that we had such things as artillery forward observers
  commanding companies and sergeants leading the platoons, which were
  less than half-strength. It was that bad.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110626

_A light machine gun crew of Company H, 2d Battalion, 27th Marines,
hugs the ground and takes advantage of whatever cover it can from an
enemy gunner._]

Lieutenant Colonel English recalled that by the 12th day the 2d
Battalion, 21st Marines, had “lost every company commander.... I had
one company exec left.” Lieutenant Colonel Donn Robertson, commanding
the 3d Battalion, 27th Marines, lost all three of his rifle company
commanders, “two killed by the same damned shell.” In many infantry
units, platoons ceased to exist; depleted companies were merged to form
one half-strength outfit.

[Sidebar (page 29): The Japanese 320mm Spigot Mortar

One of the unique Japanese weapons that Marines encountered on Iwo Jima
was the 320mm spigot mortar. These enormous defensive weapons were
emplaced and operated by the Japanese Army’s _20th Independent Mortar

The mortar tube, which had a small cavity at the muzzle, rested on a
steel baseplate which, in turn, was supported by a wooden platform.
Unlike a conventional mortar, the five-foot long projectile was placed
over the tube instead of being dropped down the barrel. The mortar
shell had a diameter of nearly 13 inches, while the mortar tube was
little more than 10 inches wide. The weapon could hurl a 675-pound
shell a maximum of 1,440 yards. The range was adjusted by varying the
powder charge, while changes in deflection were accomplished by brute
force: shoving and pushing the base platform.

Although the tubes only held out for five or six rounds, enough shells
were lobbed onto Marine positions to make a lasting impression on those
who suffered through that campaign. According to a platoon leader who
served with the 28th Marines, the spigot mortar (referred to as “the
screaming Jesus” in his unit) was always afforded a healthy respect
and, along with the eight-inch Japanese naval rocket, remains one of
his most vivid memories of Iwo Jima. General Robert E. Cushman, Jr.,
who commanded the 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, at Iwo Jima and went on
to become the 25th Commandant of the Marine Corps, recalled that the
tumbling projectile’s inaccuracy made it that much more terrifying.
“You could see it coming,” he said, “but you never knew where the hell
it was going to come down.”

    _Kenneth L. Smith-Christmas_


[Sidebar (page 32): Marine Corps Air Support During Iwo Jima

For a few special moments just prior to the landing on D-day at Iwo
Jima the Marines’ long-cherished vision of an integrated air-ground
team seemed to have been realized. As assault troops neared the beach
in their tracked amphibian vehicles, dozens of Marine Vought F4U
Corsairs swept low over the objective, paving the way with rockets
and machine-gun fire. “It was magnificent!” exclaimed one observer.
Unfortunately, the eight Marine fighter squadrons present at Iwo
that morning came from the fast carriers of Task Force 58, not the
amphibious task force; three days later TF 58 left for good in pursuit
of more strategic targets. Thereafter, Navy and Army Air Force pilots
provided yeoman service in support of the troops fighting ashore.
Sustained close air support of amphibious forces by Marine air was once
again postponed to some future combat proving ground.

Other Marine aviation units contributed significantly to the successful
seizure of Iwo Jima. One of the first to see action was Marine Bombing
Squadron (VMB) 612, based on Saipan, whose flight crews flew North
American PBJ Mitchell medium bombers in nightly, long-range rocket
attacks against Japanese ships trying to resupply Iwo Jima from other
bases in the Volcano and Bonin Islands. These nightly raids, combined
with U.S. Navy submarine interdictions, significantly reduced the
amount of ammunition and fortification material (notably barbed wire)
delivered to Iwo Jima’s defenders before the invasion.

[Illustration: _Marine LtCol Donald K. Yost in his F4U Corsair takes
off from the flight deck of the_ Cape Gloucester _(CVE 109) to provide
close air support to the fighting troops ashore. This was one of a
number of Marine aircraft flown at Iwo Jima._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 262047

The contributions of the pilots and aerial spotters from three Marine
observation squadrons (VMOs-1, -4 and -5) are described at length in
the text. Flying in to Iwo initially from escort carriers, or launched
precariously by the infamous “Brodie Slingshot” from _LST 776_, or
eventually taking off from the captured airstrips, these intrepid crews
were quite successful in spotting enemy artillery and mortar positions,
and reporting them to the Supporting Arms Control Center. When Japanese
antiaircraft gunners managed to down one of the “Grasshoppers,” Marines
from all points of the island mourned.

Marine transport aircraft from Marine Transport Squadrons (VMR) 952,
253, and 353 based in the Marianas delivered critical combat cargo to
the island during the height of the battle. The Marines frequently
relied on aerial delivery before the landing force could establish a
fully functional beachhead. On D+10, for example, VMR-952 air-dropped
critically needed mortar shells, machine gun parts, and blood within
Marine lines. On 3 March, Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm S. Mackay, CO of
VMR-952, brought in the first Marine transport to land on the island,
a Curtiss Commando R5C loaded with ammunition. All three squadrons
followed suit, bringing supplies in, taking wounded men out.

On 8 March, Marine Torpedo Bomber Squadron (VMTB) 242 flew in to
Iwo Jima from Tinian to assume responsibility for day and night
anti-submarine patrols from the departing escort carrier force.

Colonel Vernon E. Megee, USMC, had the distinction of commanding the
first Landing Force Air Support Control Unit, a milestone in the
evolution of amphibious command and control of supporting arms. Megee
came ashore on D+5 with General Schmidt, but the offloading process was
still in such disarray that he could not assemble his communications
jeeps for another five days. This did little to deter Megee. Using
“borrowed” gear, he quickly moved inland, coordinating the efforts of
the Air Liaison Parties, encouraging the Navy pilots to use bigger
bombs and listening to the complaints of the assault commanders.
Megee’s subsequent work in training and employing Army P-51 Mustang
pilots in direct support was masterful.

Before the battle’s end, General Kuribayashi transmitted to Tokyo 19
“lessons learned” about the problems of defending against an American
amphibious assault. One of these axioms said: “The enemy’s air control
is very strong; at least thirty aircraft are flying ceaselessly from
early morning to night above this very small island.”

_The Bitter End_

The American drive north continued after the 5 March standdown, but the
going never got any easier. The nature of enemy fire changed--fewer big
guns and rockets, less observed fire from the highlands--but now the
terrain grew uglier, deteriorating into narrow, twisted gorges wreathed
in sulfur mists, lethal killing zones. Marine casualties continued to
mount, but gunshot wounds began to outnumber high-explosive shrapnel
hits. The persistent myth among some Marine units that Japanese troops
were all near-sighted and hence poor marksmen ended for good at Iwo
Jima. In the close-quarters fighting among the badlands of northern
Iwo Jima, Japanese riflemen dropped hundreds of advancing Marines with
well-aimed shots to the head or chest. “Poor marksmen?” snorted Captain
Caldwell of Company F, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, “The Japs we faced
all fired ‘Expert.’”

[Illustration: _Mopping up the caves with grenades and Browning
automatic rifles, Marines flush out remaining Japanese hidden in Iwo
Jima’s numerous and interconnecting caves._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 142472

Supporting arms coordination grew more effective during the battle.
Colonel “Buzz” Letcher established what some have identified as the
first corps-level Supporting Arms Coordination Center (SACC), in which
senior representatives of artillery, naval gunfire, and air support
pooled their talents and resources. While Letcher lacked the manpower
and communications equipment to serve as corps artillery officer and
simultaneously run a full-time SACC, his efforts represented a major
advancement in this difficult art. So did Colonel Vernon Megee’s
Landing Force Air Support Control Unit, which worked in relative
harmony with the fledgling SACC. Instances of friendly fire still
occurred, perhaps inevitably on that crowded island, but positive
control at the highest level did much to reduce the frequency of such
accidents. In terms of response time, multiple-source coordination
probably worked better at the division level and below. Most infantry
battalions, for example, had nothing but praise for the Air Liaison
Parties, Shore Fire Control Parties, and artillery forward observer
teams which deployed with each maneuver unit.


    Marine Corps Combat Art Collection

_“The Target,” by Col Charles H. Waterhouse._]

While the Marines remained angry at the paucity of the overall
preliminary naval bombardment of Iwo Jima, all hands valued the
continuous and responsive support received from D-day onward. Many
of the gunfire ships stood in close--frequently less than a mile
offshore--to deliver along the flanks and front lines, and many took
hits from masked Japanese coast defense batteries. There were literally
no safe zones in or around the island. Two aspects of naval gunfire at
Iwo Jima rate special mention. One was the extent to which the ships
provided illumination rounds over the battlefield, especially during
the early days before landing force artillery could assume the bulk of
these missions. The second unique aspect was the degree of assistance
provided by the smallest gunships, frequently modified landing craft
armed with 4.2-inch mortars, rockets, or 20mm guns. These “small boys”
proved invaluable, especially along the northwest coast where they
frequently worked in lock-step with the 5th Marine Division as it
approached The Gorge.

While the Marines comprised the bulk of the landing force at Iwo Jima,
they received early and increasing support from elements of the U.S.
Army. Two of the four DUKW companies employed on D-day were Army units.
The 138th Antiaircraft Artillery Group provided 90mm AA batteries
around the newly captured airfields. Major General James E. Chaney,
USA, who would become Island Commander, Iwo Jima, at the battle’s end,
landed on D+8 with advance elements of the 145th Infantry.

As far as the Marines on the ground were concerned, the most welcome
Army units flew into Iwo Jima on 6 March (D+15). This was the 15th
Fighter Group, the vanguard of VII Fighter Command destined to
accompany the B-29s over Tokyo. The group included the 47th Fighter
Squadron, a seasoned outfit of North American P-51 Mustangs. Although
the Army pilots had no experience in direct air support of ground
troops, Colonel Megee liked their “eager-beaver attitude” and
willingness to learn. He also appreciated the fact that the Mustangs
could deliver 1,000-pound bombs. Megee quickly trained the Army pilots
in striking designated targets on nearby islands in response to a
surface-based controller. In three days they were ready for Iwo Jima.
Megee instructed the P-51 pilots to arm their bombs with 12-second
delay fuzes, attack parallel to the front lines, and approach from a
45-degree angle. Sometimes these tactics produced spectacular results,
especially along the west coast, where the big bombs with delayed fuzes
blew the sides of entire cliffs into the ocean, exposing enemy caves
and tunnels to direct fire from the sea. “The Air Force boys did a
lot of good,” said Megee. With that, the escort carriers departed the
area and left close air support to the 47th Fighter Squadron for the
duration of the battle.

While technically not a “supporting arm,” the field medical support
provided the assault Marines primarily by the Navy was a major
contributor to victory in the prolonged battle. The practice of
integrating surgeons, chaplains, and corpsmen within the Fleet Marine
Force units continued to pay valuable dividends. In many cases company
corpsmen were just as tough and combat-savvy as the Marines they
accompanied. In all cases, a wounded Marine immediately knew “his”
corpsman would move heaven and earth to reach him, bind his wounds, and
start the long process of evacuation. Most Marines at Iwo Jima would
echo the sentiments of Staff Sergeant Alfred I. Thomas, a half-track
platoon commander in the 25th Marines: “We had outstanding corpsmen;
they were just like family.”

Unfortunately, the luxury of having first-rate medical assistance so
close to the front lines took a terrible toll. Twenty-three doctors and
827 corpsmen were killed or wounded at Iwo Jima, a casualty rate twice
as high as bloody Saipan.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110902

_Navy corpsmen tend a Marine who was shot in the back by enemy sniper

Rarely had combat medical support been so thoughtfully prepared and
provided as at Iwo Jima. Beyond the crude aid stations, further toward
the rear, Navy and Army field hospitals arose. Some Marines would be
wounded, receive treatment in a field hospital tent, recuperate in a
bunker, and return to the lines--often to receive a second or third
wound. The more seriously wounded would be evacuated off the island,
either by direct air to Guam, or via one of several fully staffed
hospital ships which operated around the clock within the amphibious
objective area. Within the first month of the fighting on Iwo Jima,
13,737 wounded Marines and corpsmen were evacuated by hospital ship,
another 2,449 by airlift.

[Illustration: _Installed in an abandoned Japanese dugout several
thousand yards behind the fighting, 4th Marine Division surgeons
operated on those badly wounded Marines and Navy corpsmen who might not
have survived a trip to the hospital ship._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 111506

For a wounded Marine, the hazardous period came during the first few
minutes after he went down. Japanese snipers had no compunctions about
picking off litter crews, or corpsmen, or sometimes the wounded man
himself as his buddies tried to slide him clear of the fire. One of
the most celebrated examples of casualty evacuation occurred after a
Japanese sniper shot Corporal Edwin J. Canter, a rocket truck crew
chief in the 4th Marine Division, through the abdomen. The rocket
trucks always drew an angry fusillade of counterbattery fire from the
Japanese, and Canter’s friends knew they had to get him away from the
launch site fast. As a nearby motion picture crew recorded the drama,
four Marines hustling Canter down a muddy hillside heard the scream of
an incoming shell, dumped the wounded man unceremoniously and scattered
for cover. The explosion killed the film crew and wounded each of the
Marines, including Canter, again. The film footage survived, appeared
in stateside newsreels--and eventually became part of the movie “Sands
of Iwo Jima.” Canter was evacuated to a hospital ship, thence to
hospitals in Guam, Hawaii, and the States. His war had ended.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110852

_As the fighting moved inland, the beaches of Iwo Jima became very busy
places with the continual incoming flow of supplies. Note the many
roads leading off the beaches over which trucks, LVTs, and DUKWs headed
to the front lines._]

Meanwhile the beachmasters and shore party personnel performed
spectacular feats to keep the advancing divisions fully armed and
equipped. It is difficult to imagine the scope of logistical management
and sheer, back-breaking work required to maintain such a high volume
of supplies and equipment moving over such precarious beaches. A single
beach on the west coast became functional on D+11, but by that time the
bulk of landing force supplies were on shore. General unloading ended
the next day, releasing the vulnerable amphibious ships from their
tether to the beachhead. Thereafter, ammunition resupply became the
critical factor. On one occasion, well-aimed Japanese fire detonated
the entire 5th Marine Division ammo dump. In another tense moment, the
ammunition ship _Columbia Victory_ came under direct Japanese fire as
she approached the western beaches to commence unloading. Watching
Marines held their breath as the ship became bracketed by fire. The
ship escaped, but the potential still existed for a disaster of
catastrophic proportions.

The 2d Separate Engineer Battalion and the 62d Naval Construction
Battalion (Seabees) repaired and extended the captured runways. In
short order, an entire Seabee brigade moved ashore. Marines returning
to the beaches from the northern highlands could hardly recognize the
place they had first seen on D-day. There were now more than 80,000
Americans on the small island. Seabees had bulldozed a two-lane road up
to the top of Suribachi.

Communications, often maligned in earlier amphibious assaults, were
never better than at Iwo Jima. Radios and handsets were now waterproof,
more frequencies were available, and a variety of radio systems served
the varying needs of the landing force. Forward observer teams, for
example, used the back-pack SCR-610, while companies and platoons
favored the SCR-300 “walkie-talkies,” or the even lighter SCR-536
“Spam Can” portables. Said Lieutenant Colonel James P. Berkeley,
executive officer of the 27th Marines and a former communications
officer, “At Iwo we had near-perfect communications, all any commander
could ask for.” As the battle progressed, the Marines began stringing
telephone lines between support units and forward command posts, wisely
elevating the wire along upright posts to avoid damage by tracked

Japanese counterintelligence teams expected to have a field day
splicing into the proliferation of U.S. telephone lines, but the
Marines baffled them by heavy use of Navajo code talkers. Each division
employed about two dozen trained Navajos. The 5th Marine Division
command post established six Navajo networks upon arrival on the
island. No one, throughout the war, insofar as anyone knew, was ever
able to translate the Navajo code talkers’ voice transmissions.

[Illustration: _“Iwo Jima,” proof lithograph of two Navajo code
talkers, by Sgt John Fabion._

    Marine Corps Combat Art Collection

African-American troops played a significant role in the capture of Iwo
Jima. Negro drivers served in the Army DUKW units active throughout
the landing. Black Marines of the 8th Ammunition Company and the 36th
Depot Company landed on D-day, served as stevedores on those chaotic
beaches, and were joined by the 33d and 34th Depot Companies on
D+3. These Marines were incorporated into the VAC Shore Party which
did Herculean work sustaining the momentum of the American drive
northwards. When Japanese counterattacks penetrated to the beach areas,
these Marines dropped their cargo, unslung their carbines, and engaged
in well-disciplined fire and maneuver, inflicting more casualties than
they sustained. Two Marines, Privates James W. Whitlock and James
Davis, received the Bronze Star. Said Colonel Leland S. Swindler,
commanding the VAC Shore Party, the entire body of black Marines
“conducted themselves with marked coolness and courage.”

News media coverage of the Iwo Jima battle was extensive and largely
unfettered. Typical of the scores of combat correspondents who stuck
with the landing force throughout the battle was Marine Technical
Sergeant Frederick K. “Dick” Dashiell, a former Associated Press
writer assigned to the 3d Marine Division. Although downright scared
sometimes, and filled with horror often, Dashiell stood the test, for
he wrote 81 front-line communiques, pounding out news releases on his
portable typewriter on the edge of his foxhole. Dashiell’s eye for
detail caught the flavor of the prolonged assault. “All is bitter,
frontal assault, always uphill,” he wrote. He described how the
ceaseless wind filled the air with fine volcanic grit, and how often
the Marines had to stop and clean the grit from their weapons--and how
naked that made any Marine feel.

Most Marines were exhausted at this point in the battle. Occasional
hot food delivered close behind the front lines, or more frequently
fresh fruit and milk from the nearby ships, helped morale some. So
did watching more and more crippled B-29s soar in for emergency
landings, often two or three a day. “It felt good to see them land,”
said Sergeant James “Doc” Lindsey, a squad leader in Company G, 2d
Battalion, 25th Marines. “You knew they’d just come from Tokyo.”


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 142845

_From the viewpoint of Marine company commanders, having their own
“artillery,” in the form of 60mm mortars, was a very satisfying matter.
A 60mm mortar crew is at work, in a natural depression, lobbing round
after round at enemy positions._]

General Erskine came down with pneumonia during this period, but
refused to be evacuated. Colonel Robert E. Hogaboom, his chief of
staff, quietly kept the war moving. The division continued to advance.
When Erskine recovered, Hogaboom adjusted accordingly; the two were a
highly effective team.

Erskine had long sought the opportunity to conduct a battalion-sized
night operation. It rankled him that throughout the war the Americans
seemed to have conceded the night to the Japanese. When Hill 362-C
continued to thwart his advance, Erskine directed a pre-dawn advance
devoid of the trappings of prep fires which always seemed to identify
the time and place of attack. The distinction of making this unusual
assault went to Lieutenant Colonel Harold C. “Bing” Boehm, commanding
the 3d Battalion, 9th Marines. Unfortunately this battalion was new
to this particular sector and received the attack order too late
the previous day to reconnoiter effectively. The absence of advance
orientation notwithstanding, the battalion crossed the line of
departure promptly and silently at 0500 and headed for Hill 362-C. The
unit attained total surprise along its axis of advance. Before the
sleepy Japanese knew it, the battalion had hurried across 500 yards of
broken ground, sweeping by the outposts and roasting the occasional
strongpoint with flamethrowers. Then it was Boehm’s turn to be
surprised. Daylight revealed his battalion had captured the wrong hill,
an intermediate objective. Hill 362-C still lay 250 yards distant; now
he was surrounded by a sea of wide-awake and furiously counterattacking
Japanese infantry. Boehm did what seemed natural: he redeployed his
battalion and attacked towards the original objective. This proved
very rough going and took much of the day, but before dark the 3d
Battalion, 9th Marines stood in sole possession of Hill 362-C, one of
Kuribayashi’s main defensive anchors.

Boehm’s success, followed shortly by General Senda’s costly
counterattack against the 4th Marine Division, seemed to represent
another turning point of the battle. On D+18 a patrol from the 3d
Marine Division reached the northeast coast. The squad leader filled
a canteen with salt water and sent it back to General Schmidt marked
“For inspection--not consumption.” Schmidt welcomed the symbolism.
The next day the 4th Marine Division finally pinched out Turkey
Knob, moving out of The Amphitheater towards the east coast. The end
seemed tantalizingly close, but the intensity of Japanese resistance
hardly waned. Within the 5th Marine Division’s zone in the west, the
2d Battalion, 26th Marines, was reporting an aggregate casualty rate
approaching 70 percent. General Rockey warned of a state of “extreme
exhaustion and fatigue.”

The division commanders began to look elsewhere for relief of their
shot-up battalions. In the 4th Marine Division, General Cates formed
a provisional battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Melvin L. Krulewitch
which conducted a series of attacks against the many bypassed enemy
positions. The term “mopping up” as applied to Iwo Jima, whether
by service troops or subsequent Army garrison units, should be
considered relative. Many pockets of Japanese held out indefinitely,
well-armed and defiant to the end. Rooting them out was never easy.
Other divisions used cannoneers, pioneers, motor transport units,
and amtrackers as light infantry units, either to augment front-line
battalions or conduct combat patrols throughout rear areas. By this
time, however, the extreme rear area at Iwo had become overconfident.
Movies were being shown every night. Ice cream could be found on the
beach. Men swam in the surf and slept in tents. This all provided a
false and deadly sense of security.

Not very far to the north, Lieutenant Colonel Cushman’s 2d Battalion,
9th Marines, became engaged in a sustained battle in extremely broken
terrain east of the third airfield. The Marines eventually encircled
the Japanese positions, but the battle for “Cushman’s Pocket” raged on.
As the battalion commander reported the action:

  The enemy position was a maze of caves, pillboxes, emplaced
  tanks, stone walls and trenches.... We beat against this position
  for eight continuous days, using every supporting weapon. The
  core--main objective of the sector--still remained. The battalion
  was exhausted. Almost all leaders were gone and the battalion
  numbered about 400, including 350 replacements.

Cushman’s 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, was relieved, but other elements
of the 9th and 21st Marines, equally exhausted, had just as difficult
a time. Erskine truly had no reserves. He called Cushman back into the
pocket. By 16 March (D+25), Japanese resistance in this thicket of
jumbled rocks ended. The 4th Marine Division, meanwhile, poured over
the hills along the east, seizing the coast road and blasting the last
Japanese strongpoints from the rear. Ninety percent of Iwo Jima now lay
in American hands. Radio Tokyo carried the mournful remarks of Prime
Minister Kuniaki Koiso, who announced the fall of Iwo Jima as “the most
unfortunate thing in the whole war situation.”

General Smith took the opportunity to declare victory and conduct a
flag-raising ceremony. With that, the old warhorse departed. Admiral
Turner had sailed previously. Admiral Hill and General Schmidt finally
had the campaign to themselves. Survivors of the 4th Division began
backloading on board ship, their battle finally over.


    Marine Corps Historical Collection

_After 24 days of the most bitter battle in the history of the Marine
Corps to that date, on 14 March 1945, the colors were raised once again
on Iwo Jima to signify the occupation of the island, although the
battle was still raging in the north. The official end of the campaign
would not be until 14 days later, on 26 March._]

The killing continued in the north. The 5th Marine Division entered The
Gorge, an 800-yard pocket of incredibly broken country which the troops
would soon call “Death Valley.” Here General Kuribayashi maintained his
final command center in a deep cave. Fighting in this ungodly landscape
provided a fitting end to the battle--nine endless days of cave-by-cave
assaults with flamethrowers and demolitions. Combat engineers used
8,500 tons of explosives to detonate one huge fortification. Progress
was slow and costlier than ever. General Rockey’s drained and depleted
regiments lost one more man with every two yards gained. To ease the
pressure, General Schmidt deployed the 3d Marine Division against
Kitano Point in the 5th Division zone.

Colonel Hartnoll J. Withers directed the final assault of his 21st
Marines against the extreme northern tip of the island. General
Erskine, pneumonia be damned, came forward to look over his shoulder.
The 21st Marines could see the end, and their momentum proved
irresistible. In half a day of sharp fighting they cleared the point of
the last defenders. Erskine signalled Schmidt: “Kitano Point is taken.”

Both divisions made serious efforts to persuade Kuribayashi to
surrender during these final days, broadcasting appeals in Japanese,
sending personal messages praising his valor and urging his
cooperation. Kuribayashi remained a samurai to the end. He transmitted
one final message to Tokyo, saying “we have not eaten or drunk for five
days, but our fighting spirit is still running high. We are going to
fight bravely to the last.” Imperial Headquarters tried to convey the
good news to him that the Emperor had approved his promotion to full
general. There was no response from Iwo Jima. Kuribayashi’s promotion
would be posthumous. Fragmentary Japanese accounts indicate he took his
own life during the night of 25-26 March.

In The Gorge, the 5th Marine Division kept clawing forward. The
division reported that the average battalion, which had landed with
36 officers and 885 men on D-day, now mustered 16 officers and 300
men, including the hundreds of replacements funneled in during the
fighting. The remnants of the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, and the 1st
Battalion, 28th Marines, squeezed the Japanese into a final pocket,
then overwhelmed them.

It was the evening of 25 March, D+34, and the amphibious assault on
the rocky fortress of Iwo Jima finally appeared over. The island grew
strangely quiet. There were far fewer illumination shells. In the
flickering false light, some saw shadowy figures, moving south, towards
the airfield.

General Schmidt received the good news that the 5th Marine Division had
snuffed out the final enemy cave in The Gorge on the evening of D+34.
But even as the corps commander prepared his announcement declaring the
end of organized resistance on Iwo Jima, a very well-organized enemy
force emerged from northern caves and infiltrated down the length of
the island. This final spasm of Japanese opposition still reflected
the influence of Kuribayashi’s tactical discipline. The 300-man force
took all night to move into position around the island’s now vulnerable
rear base area, the tents occupied by freshly arrived Army pilots of
VII Fighter Command, adjacent to Airfield No. 1. The counterattacking
force achieved total surprise, falling on the sleeping pilots out of
the darkness with swords, grenades, and automatic weapons. The fighting
was as vicious and bloody as any that occurred in Iwo Jima’s many

The surviving pilots and members of the 5th Pioneer Battalion
improvised a skirmish line and launched a counterattack of their
own. Seabees and elements of the redeploying 28th Marines joined the
fray. There were few suicides among the Japanese; most died in place,
grateful to strike one final blow for the Emperor. Sunrise revealed the
awful carnage: 300 dead Japanese; more than 100 slain pilots, Seabees,
and pioneers; and another 200 American wounded. It was a grotesque
closing chapter to five continuous weeks of savagery.

The 5th Marine Division and the 21st Marines wasted no time in
backloading on board amphibious ships. The 9th Marines, last of the VAC
maneuver units to land, became the last to leave, conducting two more
weeks of ambushes and combat patrols. The 147th Infantry inherited more
of the same. In the first two months after the Marines left, the Army
troops killed 1,602 Japanese and captured 867 more.

[Sidebar (page 37): The Marines’ Zippo Tanks

To the Marines on the ground, the Sherman M4A3 medium tank equipped
with the Navy Mark I flame thrower seemed to be the most valuable
weapon employed in the battle of Iwo Jima.

The Marines had come a long way in the tactical use of fire in the 15
months since Tarawa, when only a handful of backpack flame throwers
were available to combat the island’s hundreds of fortifications. While
the landing force still relied on portable flame throwers, most Marines
could see the value of marrying the technology with armored vehicles
for use against the toughest targets. In the Marianas, the Marines
modified M3A1 light tanks with the Canadian Ronson flame system to good
effect; the problems came from the vulnerability of the small vehicles.
At Peleliu, the 1st Marine Division mounted the improvised Mark I
system on a thin-skinned LVT-4; again, vehicle vulnerability limited
the system’s effectiveness. The obvious solution seemed to be to mount
the flame thrower in a medium tank.

The first modification to Sherman tanks involved the installation of
the small E4-5 mechanized flame thrower in place of the bow machine
gun. This was only a marginal improvement; the system’s short range,
modest fuel supply, and awkward aiming process hardly offset the loss
of the machine gun. Even so, each of the three tank battalions employed
E4-5-equipped Shermans during Iwo Jima.

The best solution to marrying effective flame projection with
mechanized mobility resulted from an unlikely inter-service task force
of Seabees, Army Chemical Warfare Service technicians, and Fleet Marine
Force tankers in Hawaii before the invasion. According to Lieutenant
Colonel William R. Collins, commanding the 5th Tank Battalion, this
inspired group of field-expedient tinkerers modified the Mark I flame
thrower to operate from within the Sherman’s turret, replacing the
75mm main gun with a look-alike launch tube. The modified system
could thus be trained and pointed like any conventional turret gun.
Using napalm-thickened fuel, the “Zippo Tanks” could spew flame up
to 150 yards for a duration of 55-80 seconds, both quantum tactical

Unfortunately, the _ad hoc_ modification team had only sufficient
time and components to modify eight M4A3 tanks with the Mark I flame
system; four each went to the 4th and 5th Tank Battalions. The 3d Tank
Battalion, then staging in Guam, received neither the M4A3 Shermans
nor the field modifications in time for Iwo Jima, although a number of
their “A2” tanks retained the E4-5 system mounted in the bow.

The eight modified Sherman flame tanks proved ideal against Iwo Jima’s
rugged caves and concrete fortifications. The Japanese feared this
weapon greatly; time and again suicide squads of “human bullets” would
assail the flame tanks directly, only to be shot down by covering
forces or scorched by the main weapon. Enemy fire and the rough terrain
took their toll on the eight flame tanks, but maintenance crews worked
around the clock to keep them functional.

In the words of Captain Frank C. Caldwell, a company commander in the
26th Marines: “In my view it was the flame tank more than any other
supporting arm that won this battle.” Tactical demands for the flame
tanks never diminished. Late in the battle, as the 5th Marine Division
cornered the last Japanese defenders in “The Gorge,” the 5th Tank
Battalion expended napalm-thickened fuel at the rate of 10,000 gallons
per day. The division’s final action report stated that the flame tank
was “the one weapon that caused the Japs to leave their caves and rock
crevices and run.”

[Illustration: _A Marine flame tank, also known as a “Ronson,” scorches
a Japanese strongpoint. The eight M4A3 Shermans equipped with the Navy
Mark I flame-thrower proved to be the most valuable weapons systems on
Iwo Jima._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 140758

[Sidebar (page 42): Iwo’s Fire Brigades: The Rocket Detachments

Attached to the assault divisions of the landing force at Iwo Jima
were provisional rocket detachments. The infantry had a love-hate
relationship with the forward-deploying little rocket trucks and their
plucky crews. The “system” was an International one-ton 4×4 truck
modified to carry three box-shaped launchers, each containing a dozen
4.5-inch rockets. A good crew could launch a “ripple” of 36 rockets
within a matter of seconds, providing a blanket of high explosives
on the target. This the infantry loved--but each launching always
drew heavy return fire from the Japanese who feared the “automatic

The Marines formed an Experimental Rocket Unit in June 1943 and first
deployed rail-launched barrage rockets during the fighting in the
upper Solomons. There the heavily canopied jungles limited their
effectiveness. Once mounted on trucks and deployed to the Central
Pacific, however, the weapons proved much more useful, particularly
during the battle of Saipan. The Marines modified the small trucks by
reinforcing the tail gate to serve as a blast shield, installing a
hydraulic jack to raise and lower the launchers, and applying gravity
quadrants and elevation safety chains. Crude steel rods welded to the
bumper and dashboard helped the driver align the vehicle with aiming

Treeless, hilly Iwo Jima proved an ideal battleground for these
so-called “Buck Rogers Men.” At Iwo, the 1st Provisional Rocket
Detachment supported the 4th Marine Division and the 3d Detachment
supported the 5th Division throughout the operation (the 3d Division
did not have such a unit in this battle). Between them, the two
detachments fired more than 30,000 rockets in support of the landing

The 3d Detachment landed over Red Beach on D-day, losing one vehicle
to the surf, others to the loose sand or heavy enemy fire. One vehicle
reached its firing position intact and launched a salvo of rockets
against Japanese fortifications along the slopes of Suribachi,
detonating an enemy ammunition dump. The detachment subsequently
supported the 1st Battalion, 28th Marines’ advance to the summit, often
launching single rockets to clear suspected enemy positions along the

As the fighting moved north, the short range, steep angle of fire, and
saturation effect of the rocket launchers kept them in high demand.
They were particularly valuable in defilade-to-defilade bombardments
marking the final punctuation of pre-assault prep fires. But their
distinctive flash and telltale blast also caught the attention of
Japanese artillery spotters. The rocket trucks rarely remained in one
place long enough to fire more than two salvos. “Speedy displacement”
was the key to their survival. The nearby infantry knew better than to
stand around and wave goodbye; this was the time to seek deep shelter
from the counterbattery fire sure to follow.

[Illustration: _The positions from which rocket troops launched salvos
of 4.5-inch rockets became very unhealthy places, indeed, as Japanese
artillery and mortars zeroed in on the clouds of smoke and dust
resulting from the firing of the rockets._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 111100

[Sidebar (page 44): Amphibious Logistical Support at Iwo Jima

The logistical effort required to sustain the seizure of Iwo Jima was
enormous, complex, largely improvised on lessons learned in earlier
Marine Corps operations in the Pacific, and highly successful. Clearly,
no other element of the emerging art of amphibious warfare had improved
so greatly by the winter of 1945. Marines may have had the heart and
firepower to tackle a fortress-like Iwo Jima earlier in the war, but
they would have been crippled in the doing of it by limitations in
amphibious logistical support capabilities. These concepts, procedures,
organizations, and special materials took years to develop; once in
place they fully enabled such large-scale conquests as Iwo Jima and

For the Iwo Jima operation, VAC had the 8th Field Depot, commanded
by Colonel Leland S. Swindler. The depot was designed to serve as
the nucleus of the shore party operation; the depot commander was
dual-hatted as the Shore Party Commander of the Landing Force, in
which capacity he was responsible for coordinating the activities of
the division shore parties. The timing of the logistics support at Iwo
Jima proved to be well conceived and executed. Liaison teams from the
8th Field Depot accompanied the 4th and 5th Divisions ashore. On D+3,
units of the field depot came ashore, and two days after this, when VAC
assumed control on shore, the field depot took over and the unloading
continued without interruption.

The V Amphibious Corps at Iwo Jima used every conceivable means of
delivering combat cargo ashore when and where needed by the landing
force. These means sequentially involved the prescribed loads and
units of fire carried by the assault waves; “hot cargo” preloaded
in on-call waves or floating dumps; experimental use of “one-shot”
preloaded amphibious trailers and Wilson drums; general unloading;
administrative unloading of what later generations of amphibians
would call an “assault follow-on echelon”; and aerial delivery of
critically short items, first by parachute, then by transports landing
on the captured runways. In the process, the Navy-Marine Corps team
successfully experimented with the use of armored bulldozers and sleds
loaded with hinged Marston matting delivered in the assault waves to
help clear wheeled vehicles stuck in the soft volcanic sand. In spite
of formidable early obstacles--foul weather, heavy surf, dangerous
undertows, and fearsome enemy fire--the system worked. Combat cargo
flowed in; casualties and salvaged equipment flowed out.

Shortages appeared from time to time, largely the result of the Marines
on shore meeting a stronger and larger defense garrison than estimated.
Hence, urgent calls soon came for more demolitions, grenades, mortar
illumination rounds, flame-thrower recharging units, and whole blood.
Transport squadrons delivered many of these critical items directly
from fleet bases in the Marianas.

Field medical support at Iwo Jima was a model of exhaustive planning
and flexible application. The Marines had always enjoyed the finest
immediate medical attention from their organic surgeons and corpsmen,
but the backup system ashore at Iwo Jima, from field hospitals
to graves registration, was mind-boggling to the older veterans.
Moderately wounded Marines received full hospital treatment and
rehabilitation; many returned directly to their units, thus preserving
at least some of the rapidly decreasing levels of combat experience in
frontline outfits. The more seriously wounded were treated, stabilized,
and evacuated, either to offshore hospital ships or by air transport to

The Marines fired an unprecedented half million artillery rounds in
direct and general support of the assault units. More rounds were lost
when the 5th Marine Division dump blew up. The flow never stopped. The
Shore Party used DUKWs, LVTs, and larger craft for rapid offloading
of ammunition ships dangerously exposed to Iwo Jima’s enemy gunners.
Marine Corps ammunition and depot companies hustled the fresh munitions
ashore and into the neediest hands.

Lieutenant Colonel James D. Hittle, USMC, served as D-4 of the 3d
Marine Division throughout the battle of Iwo Jima. While shaking his
head at the “crazy-quilt” logistic adaptations dictated by Iwo’s
geography, Hittle saw creative staff management at all levels. The 3d
Division, earmarked as the reserve for the landing, found it difficult
to undertake combat loading of their ships in the absence of a scheme
of maneuver on shore, but the staff made valid assumptions based on
their earlier experiences. This paid huge dividends when the corps
commander had to commit the 21st Marines as a separate tactical unit
well in advance of the division. Thanks to foresightful combat loading,
the regiment landed fully equipped and supported, ready for immediate
deployment in the fighting.

To augment the supplies coming across the beach, the 3d Division staff
air officer “appropriated” a transport plane and made regular runs to
the division’s base in Guam, bringing back fresh beef, mail, and cases
of beer. The 3d Division G-4 also sent his transport quartermaster
(today’s embarkation officer) out to sea with an LVT-full of war
souvenirs; these were bartered with ship’s crews for donations of fresh
fruit, eggs, bread--“we’d take anything.” General Erskine distributed
these treats personally to the men in the lines.

Retired Brigadier General Hittle marveled at the density of troops
funnelled into the small island. “At one point we had 60,000 men
occupying less than three-and-a-half square miles of broken terrain.”
These produced startling neighbors: a 105mm battery firing from the
middle of the shore party cantonment; the division command post sited
1,000 yards from Japanese lines; “giant B-29s taking off and landing
forward of the CP of an assault regiment.”

In the effort to establish a fresh-water distilling plant, Marine
engineers dug a “well” near the beach. Instead of a source of salt
water the crew discovered steaming mineral water, heated by Suribachi’s
supposedly dormant volcano. Hittle moved the 3d Division distilling
site elsewhere; this spot became a hot shower facility, soon one of the
most popular places on the island.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 109635

_Iwo Jima’s Costs, Gains, and Legacies_

In its 36 days of combat on Iwo Jima, the V Amphibious Corps killed
approximately 22,000 Japanese soldiers and sailors. The cost was
staggering. The assault units of the corps--Marines and organic
Navy personnel--sustained 24,053 casualties, by far the highest
single-action losses in Marine Corps history. Of these, a total of
6,140 died. Roughly one Marine or corpsman became a casualty for every
three who landed on Iwo Jima.

According to a subsequent analysis by military historian Dr. Norman
Cooper, “Nearly seven hundred Americans gave their lives for every
square mile. For every plot of ground the size of a football field, an
average of more than one American and five Japanese were killed and
five Americans wounded.”

[Illustration: _The fighting hardly over, grizzled, begrimed, and tired
Marines solemnly display the spoils of war captured in a very long,
difficult, and hard-fought battle._

    Marine Corps Historical Collection

The assault infantry units bore the brunt of these losses. Captain
William T. Ketcham’s Company I, 3d Battalion, 24th Marines, landed on
D-day with 133 Marines in the three rifle platoons. Only nine of these
men remained when the remnants of the company reembarked on D+35.
Captain Frank C. Caldwell reported the loss of 221 men from Company
F, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines. At the end, a private first class
served as platoon commander for Caldwell’s merged first and second
platoons. Elsewhere in the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, Captain Tom
Fields relinquished command of Company D on the eighth day to replace
the battalion executive officer. Rejoining his company at the end of
the battle, Fields was sickened to find only 17 of the original 250
men still in the ranks. Company B, 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, went
through nine company commanders in the fighting; 12 different Marines
served as platoon leader of the second platoon, including two buck
privates. Each division, each regiment, reported similar conditions.

As the extent of the losses became known in the press, the American
public reacted with shock and dismay as they had 14 months earlier at
Tarawa. This time, however, the debate about the high cost of forcibly
seizing an enemy island raged in the press while the battle was still
being fought.

The Marine Corps released only one official communique about
specific battle losses during the battle, reporting casualties of
nearly 5,000 men on 22 February. Five days later, at the insistence
of press baron William Randolph Hearst, an early supporter of the
MacArthur-for-President claque, the _San Francisco Examiner_ ran a
front page editorial bewailing the Marines’ tactics and losses. “It’s
the same thing that happened at Tarawa and Saipan,” the editorial
stated, urging the elevation of General MacArthur to supreme command in
the Pacific, because “HE SAVES THE LIVES OF HIS OWN MEN.” With that,
100 off-duty Marines stormed the offices of the _Examiner_ demanding
an apology. Unfortunately, the Hearst editorial received wide play;
many families of Marines fighting at Iwo Jima forwarded the clippings.
Marines received these in the mail while the fighting still continued,
an unwelcome blow to morale.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110599

_The fighting continues and continues. For weary flamethrower operators
Pvt Richard Klatt, left, and PFC Wilfred Voegeli the campaign is just
one cave after another._]

President Roosevelt, long a master of public opinion, managed to keep
the lid on the outcry by emphasizing the sacrifice of the troops as
epitomized by the Joe Rosenthal photograph of the second Suribachi
flag-raising. The photograph was already widely renowned. FDR made it
the official logo of the Seventh War Bond Drive and demanded the six
flag-raisers be reassigned home to enhance popular morale. Regrettably,
three of the six men had already been killed in subsequent fighting in
the drive north on Iwo Jima.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff looked appraisingly at Iwo Jima’s losses. No
one questioned the objective; Iwo Jima was an island that categorically
had to be seized if the strategic bombing campaign was ever going
to be effective. The island could therefore not be bypassed or
“leap-frogged.” There is considerable evidence that the Joint Chiefs
considered the use of poison gas during the Iwo Jima planning phase.
Neither Japan nor the United States had signed the international
moratorium, there were no civilians on the island, the Americans had
stockpiles of mustard gas shells in the Pacific theater. But President
Roosevelt scotched these considerations quickly. America, he declared,
would never make first use of poison gas. In any case, the use of
poison gas on an area as relatively small as Iwo Jima, whose prevailing
winds would quickly dissipate the gas fumes, became moot. This left the
landing force with no option but a frontal amphibious assault against
the most heavily fortified island America ever faced in the war.

[Illustration: _Uncommon valor in a peaceful setting: this 4th
Division Marine threatens the enemy even in death. His bayonet fixed
and pointing in the direction of the enemy, he was killed by a sniper
before he even got off the beach on D-day._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 109624

On the other hand, seizure of Iwo Jima provided significant strategic
benefits. Symbolically, the Marines raised the flag over Mount
Suribachi on the same day that General MacArthur entered Manila. The
parallel capture of the Philippines and Iwo Jima, followed immediately
by the invasion of Okinawa, accelerated the pace of the war, bringing
it at long last to Japan’s doorstep. The three campaigns convincingly
demonstrated to the Japanese high command that the Americans now had
the capability--and the will--to overwhelm even the most stoutly
defended islands. Kyushu and Honshu would be next.

Iwo Jima in American hands produced immediate and highly visible
benefits to the strategic bombing campaign. Marines fighting on the
island were reminded of this mission time and again as crippled B-29
Superforts flew in from Honshu. The capture of Iwo Jima served to
increase the operating range, payload, and survival rate of the big
bombers. The monthly tonnage of high explosives dropped on Imperial
Japan by B-29s based in the Marianas increased eleven-fold in March
alone. As early as 7 April a force of 80 P-51 Mustangs of VII Fighter
Command took off from Iwo Jima to escort B-29s striking the Nakajima
aircraft engine plant in Tokyo. But the Army Air Force valued Iwo Jima
most of all as an emergency landing field. By war’s end, a total of
2,251 B-29s made forced landings on the island. This figure represented
24,761 flight crewmen, many of whom would have perished at sea without
the availability of Iwo Jima as a safe haven. Said one B-29 pilot,
“whenever I land on this island I thank God for the men who fought for

General Tadamichi Kuribayashi proved to be one of the most competent
field commanders the Marines ever faced. He displayed a masterful grasp
of the principles of simplicity and economy of force, made maximum use
of Iwo’s forbidding terrain, employed his artillery and mortars with
great skill, and exercised command with an iron will virtually to the
end. He was also a realist. Without hope of even temporary naval or
air superiority he knew he was doomed from the start. In five weeks
of unremitting pressure, the Americans breached every strongpoint,
exterminated his forces, and seized the island.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 142434

_With his buddies holding the four corners of the National Colors,
the last rites for a fallen Marine are offered by the chaplain at a
temporary gravesite in Iwo’s black sand. Chaplains of all religious
persuasions heroically ministered to all Marines and Corpsmen
throughout the thick of the fighting at their own risk._]

Iwo Jima represented at once the supreme test and the pinnacle of
American amphibious capabilities in the Pacific War. The sheer
magnitude of the task--planning the assault and sustaining of that many
troops against such a formidable objective--made Operation Detachment
an enduring model of “detailed planning and violent execution.”
Here the element of surprise was not available to the attacker.
Yet the speed of the American landing and the toughness with which
assault units withstood the withering barrages astounded the Japanese
defenders. “The landing on Iwo was the epitome of everything we’d
learned over the years about amphibious assaults,” said Colonel Wornham
of the 27th Marines. Bad as the enemy fire became on D-day, there were
no reports of “Issue in doubt.” Lieutenant Colonel Galer compared Iwo
Jima with his Guadalcanal experience: “Then it was ‘can we hold?’ Here
at Iwo Jima the question was simply ‘When can we get it over?’”

The ship-to-shore assault at Iwo was impressive enough, but the real
measure of amphibious effectiveness can be seen in the massive,
sustained logistical support which somehow flowed over those
treacherous beaches. Not only did the Marines have all the ammunition
and flamethrower refills they needed, around the clock, but they also
had many of the less obvious necessities and niceties which marked
this battle as different from its predecessors. Marines on Iwo had
ample quantities of whole blood, some of it donated barely two weeks in
advance, flown in, refrigerated, and available. The Marines also had
mail call, unit newsletters, fresh water, radio batteries, fresh-baked
bread, and prefabricated burial markers, thousands of them.

Iwo Jima featured superior inter-service cooperation. The Navy-Marine
Corps team rarely functioned more efficiently. The blue-water Navy
continued to earn the respect of the Marines, especially on D-2
when the flotilla of tiny LCI gunboats bravely attacked the coastal
defense guns to protect the Navy and Marine frogmen. Likewise, the
Marines welcomed the contributions of the Army, Coast Guard, Coast and
Geodetic Survey, Red Cross, and the host of combat correspondents--all
of whom shared both the misery and the glory of the prolonged battle.


    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 111147

_At the end of a very long fight, a Marine flamethrower operator pauses
to light up._]

[Illustration: _LtGen Holland M. Smith, USMC, with his Fleet Marine
Force, Pacific, chief of staff, Col Dudley S. Brown, surveys the
wreckage along the landing beaches. Iwo Jima was Gen Smith’s last
battle. After this, he returned to his headquarters on Hawaii._

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 110635

Two aspects of the battle remain controversial: the inadequate
preliminary bombardment and the decision to use piecemeal replacements
instead of organized units to strengthen the assault forces. Both
decisions, rendered in the context of several competing factors, were
made by experienced commanders in good faith. Unavoidably, Iwo Jima’s
biggest cost to the V Amphibious Corps was the loss of so many combat
veterans in taking the island. While the battle served to create a
new generation of veterans among the survivors, many proud regiments
suffered devastating losses. With these same units already designated
as key components of the landing force against the Japanese home
islands, such losses had serious potential implications. These factors
may well have influenced General Holland Smith’s unpopular decision
to withhold the 3d Marines from the battle. From the perspective of
an exhausted company commander on Iwo Jima, Smith’s decision seemed
inexcusable, then and now; from the wider perspective of the commanding
general, Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific, the decision makes more sense.

Whatever his shortcomings, Holland Smith probably knew amphibious
warfare better than anyone. Of the hundreds of after-action reports
filed immediately following the battle, his official analysis best
captured the essence of the struggle:

  There was no hope of surprise, either strategic or tactical.
  There was little possibility for tactical initiative; the entire
  operation was fought on what were virtually the enemy’s own
  terms.... The strength, disposition, and conduct of the enemy’s
  defense required a major penetration of the heart of his prepared
  positions in the center of the Motoyama Plateau and a subsequent
  reduction of the positions in the difficult terrain sloping to the
  shore on the flanks. The size and terrain of the island precluded
  any Force Beachhead Line. It was an operation of one phase and one
  tactic. From the time the engagement was joined until the mission
  was completed it was a matter of frontal assault maintained with
  relentless pressure by a superior mass of troops and supporting
  arms against a position fortified to the maximum practical extent.

We Americans of a subsequent generation in the profession of arms find
it difficult to imagine a sustained amphibious assault under such
conditions. In some respects the fighting on Iwo Jima took on the
features of Marines fighting in France in 1918, described by one as
“a war girt with horrors.” We sense the drama repeated every morning
at Iwo, after the prep fires lifted, when the riflemen, engineers,
corpsmen, flame tank crews, and armored bulldozer operators somehow
found the fortitude to move out yet again into “Death Valley” or “The
Meatgrinder.” Few of us today can study the defenses, analyze the
action reports, or walk the broken ground without experiencing a sense
of reverence for the men who won that epic battle.

Fleet Admiral Nimitz said these words while the fighting still
raged: “Among the Americans who served on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor
was a common virtue,” a sentiment now chiseled in granite at the
base of Felix de Weldon’s gigantic bronze sculpture of the Suribachi

Twenty-two Marines, four Navy corpsmen, and one LCI skipper were
awarded the Medal of Honor for utmost bravery during the battle of Iwo
Jima. Half were posthumous awards.

General Erskine placed these sacrifices in perspective in remarks
made during the dedication of the 3d Marine Division cemetery on the
embattled island:

  Victory was never in doubt. Its cost was. What was in doubt, in all
  our minds, was whether there would be any of us left to dedicate
  our cemetery at the end, or whether the last Marine would die
  knocking out the last Japanese gunner.

[Sidebar (page 50): Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Twenty-seven men received the Congressional Medal of Honor for
conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity during the battle of Iwo Jima:
22 Marines, four Navy corpsmen, and one Navy landing craft commander.
Exactly half of the awards issued to Marines and corpsmen of the
V Amphibious Corps were posthumous. Within a larger institutional
context, Iwo Jima represented more than one-fourth of the 80 Medals of
Honor awarded Marines during the Second World War. This was Iwo Jima’s
Roll of Honor:

    Cpl Charles J. Berry, 1/26, 3 March 1945[A]
    PFC William R. Caddy, 3/26, 3 March[A]
    LtCol Justice M. Chambers, 3/25, 19-22 February
    Sgt Darrell S. Cole, 1/23, 19 February[A]
    Capt Robert Dunlap, 1/26, 20-21 February
    Sgt Ross F. Gray, 1/25, 21 February
    Sgt William G. Harrell, 1/28, 3 March
    Lt Rufus G. Herring, USNR, LCI 449, 17 February
    PFC Douglas T. Jacobson, 3/23, 26 February
    PltSgt Joseph J. Julian, 1/27, 9 March[A]
    PFC James D. LaBelle, 1/27, 8 March[A]
    2dLt John H. Leims, 1/9, 7 March
    PFC Jacklyn H. Lucas, 1/26, 20 February
    1stLt Jack Lummus, 2/27, 8 March[A]
    Capt Joseph J. McCarthy, 2/24, 21 February
    1stLt Harry L. Martin, 5th Pioneer Battalion, 26 March[A]
    Pvt George Phillips, 2/28, 14 March[A]
    PhM 1/c Francis J. Pierce, USN, 2/24, 15-16 March
    PFC Donald J. Ruhl, 2/28, 19-21 February[A]
    Pvt Franklin E. Sigler, 2/26, 14 March
    Cpl Tony Stein, 1/28, 19 February[A]
    PhM 2/c George Wahlen, USN, 2/26, 3 March
    GySgt William G. Walsh, 3/27, 27 February[A]
    Pvt Wilson D. Watson, 2/9, 26-27 February
    Cpl Hershel W. Williams, 1/21, 23 February
    PhM 3/c Jack Williams, USN, 3/28, 3 March[A]
    PhM 1/c John H. Willis, USN, 3/27, 28 February[A]

            [A] Posthumous


[Sidebar (page 52): Assault Divisions’ Command Structures

As the 3d, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions conducted their final
preparations for Operation Detachment, these were the infantry
commanders who would lead the way at the beginning of the battle:

3d Marine Division

    3d Marines                      Col James A. Stewart
    9th Marines                     Col Howard N. Kenyon
      1/9                         LtCol Carey A. Randall
      2/9                   LtCol Robert E. Cushman, Jr.
      3/9                          LtCol Harold C. Boehm
    21st Marines                 Col Hartnoll J. Withers
      1/21                     LtCol Marlowe C. Williams
      2/21                       LtCol Lowell E. English
      3/21                    LtCol Wendell H. Duplantis

4th Marine Division

    23d Marines                  Col Walter W. Wensinger
      1/23                              LtCol Ralph Haas
      2/23                        Maj Robert H. Davidson
      3/23                           Maj James S. Scales
    24th Marines                    Col Walter I. Jordan
      1/24                           Maj Paul S. Treitel
      2/24                        LtCol Richard Rothwell
      3/24            LtCol Alexander A. Vandegrift, Jr.
    25th Marines                     Col John R. Lanigan
      1/25                       LtCol Hollis U. Mustain
      2/25                    LtCol Lewis C. Hudson, Jr.
      3/25                     LtCol Justice M. Chambers

5th Marine Division

    26th Marines                   Col Chester B. Graham
      1/26                       LtCol Daniel C. Pollock
      2/26                        LtCol Joseph P. Sayers
      3/26                           LtCol Tom M. Trotti
    27th Marines                   Col Thomas A. Wornham
      1/27                          LtCol John A. Butler
      2/27                         Maj John W. Antonelli
      3/27                       LtCol Donn J. Robertson
    28th Marines                 Col Harry B. Liversedge
      1/28                  LtCol Jackson B. Butterfield
      2/28                     LtCol Chandler W. Johnson
      3/28                 LtCol Charles E. Shepard, Jr.

[Note: Of those infantry battalion commanders who landed on Iwo Jima on
D-Day, only seven remained unwounded and still retained command at the
battle’s end.]


The official records of the V Amphibious Corps at Iwo Jima occupy
27 boxes in the USMC archives. Within this maze, the most useful
information can be found in the “comments and recommendations” sections
of the After Action Reports filed by the major units. The best
published official account of the battle is contained in George W.
Garand and Truman R. Strobridge, _Western Pacific Operations_, vol IV,
_History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II_ (Washington:
Historical Division, HQMC, 1971). Three other official accounts are
recommended: LtCol Whitman S. Bartley, _Iwo Jima: Amphibious Epic_
(Washington: Historical Division, 1954); Capt Clifford P. Morehouse,
_The Iwo Jima Operation_, and Bernard C. Nalty, _The U.S. Marines on
Iwo Jima: The Battle and the Flag Raising_ (Washington: Historical
Branch, G-3 Division, HQMC, 1960). Chapter 10 of Jeter A. Isely and
Philip A. Crowl, _The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War_ (Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1951), combines exhaustive research
and keen analysis of the assault on Iwo. Three of the many postwar
published accounts are particularly recommended: Richard F. Newcomb,
_Iwo Jima_ (New York: Bantam, 1982); Richard Wheeler, _Iwo Jima_ (New
York: Crowell, 1980); and Bill D. Ross, _Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor_
(New York: Vanguard Press, 1985).

The most comprehensive Japanese account is contained in Part II
(“Ogasawara Islands Defense Operations”) in _Chubu Taiheyo rikugen
sakusen (2)_ [Army Operations in the Central Pacific, vol II], part of
the _Senshi Sosho_ War History Series. Of Japanese accounts in English,
the best is Major Yoshitaka Horie’s “Explanation of Japanese Defense
Plan and Battle of Iwo Jima,” written in 1946 and available at the
Marine Corps Historical Center (MCHC).

The MCHC maintains an abundance of personal accounts related to Iwo
Jima. Among the most valuable of these are the Iwo Jima comments in
the Princeton Papers Collection in the Personal Papers Section. The
Marine Corps Oral History Collection contains 36 well-indexed memoirs
of Iwo Jima participants. The research library contains a limited
edition of _Dear Progeny_, the autobiography of Dr. Michael F. Keleher,
the battalion surgeon credited with saving the life of “Jumping Joe”
Chambers on D+3. The Personal Papers Section also holds the papers
of TSgt Frederick K. Dashiell, Lt John K. McLean, and Lt Eugene T.
Petersen. For an increased insight, the author also conducted personal
interviews with 41 Iwo veterans.

The author wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Marvin Taylor of
the Marine Rocket Troops Association; Helen McDonald of the Admiral
Nimitz Museum: Frederick and Thomas Dashiell; LtCol Joseph McNamara,
USMCR; BGen James D. Hittle, USMC (Ret); Mr. Bunichi Ohtsuka; and the
entire staff of the Marine Corps Historical Center, whose collective
“can-do” spirit was personified by the late Regina Strother, photograph

_About the Author_


Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret), served 29 years on active
duty in the Marine Corps as an assault amphibian officer, including
two tours in Vietnam. He is a distinguished graduate of the Naval War
College and holds degrees in history from North Carolina, Georgetown,
and Jacksonville. He is a life member of both the Marine Corps
Historical Foundation and the Naval Institute, a member of the Society
for Military History, the Military Order of the World Wars, and the
North Carolina Writers’ Workshop.

Colonel Alexander, an independent historian, wrote _Across the Reef:
The Marine Assault on Tarawa_ in this series. He is co-author (with
Lieutenant Colonel Merrill L. Bartlett) of _Sea Soldiers in the Cold
War_ (Naval Institute Press, 1994) and the author of “Utmost Savagery:
the Amphibious Seizure of Tarawa” (Naval Institute Press, pending).
He has also written numerous feature essays published in _Marine
Corps Gazette_, _Naval Institute Proceedings_, _Naval History_,
_Leatherneck_, _Amphibious Warfare Review_, _World War Two_, and
_Florida Historical Quarterly_.


THIS PAMPHLET HISTORY, one in a series devoted to U.S. Marines in
the World War II era, is published for the education and training of
Marines by the History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine
Corps, Washington, D.C., as a part of the U.S. Department of Defense
observance of the 50th anniversary of victory in that war.

Editorial costs of preparing this pamphlet have been defrayed in part
by a grant from the Marine Corps Historical Foundation.


    =Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Ret)=

    =Benis M. Frank=

    =George C. MacGillivray=

    =Robert E. Struder=, Senior Editor;
    =W. Stephen Hill=, Visual Information Specialist
    =Catherine A. Kerns=, Composition Services Technician

    Marine Corps Historical Center
    Building 58, Washington Navy Yard
    Washington, D.C. 20374-5040


    PCN 190 003131 00


Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not

Simple typographical errors and unbalanced quotation marks were

To make this eBook easier to read, particularly on handheld devices,
some images have been made relatively larger than in the original
pamphlet, and centered, rather than offset to one side or the other;
and some were placed a little earlier or later than in the original.
Sidebars in the original have been repositioned between chapters and
identified as “[Sidebar (page nn):”, where the page reference is to the
original location in the source book. In the Plain Text version, the
matching closing right bracket follows the last line of the Sidebar’s
text and is on a separate line to make it more noticeable. In the HTML
versions, that bracket follows the colon, and each Sidebar is displayed
within a box.

Sidebar “The Marines’ Zippo Tanks” (originally on page 37) used both
“Mark I” and “Mark 1”. Here, all of them are “Mark I”.

Page 47: “D-4” may be a misprint for “G-4”.

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