Battle for Iowa Jima began,
in a strategic sense, when Liberators first bombed it on August
9,1944, six months and ten days before the Marines landed.
From that day until February 19, 1945,
the island was subjected to more bombings than any other target
in the Pacific. The newly organized Strategic Air Force, Pacific
Ocean Areas, gave it top priority. On December 8, 1944, the
Twenty-first Bomber Command, based on Saipan, began its record
72 day bombing marathon, aided on five different occasions
by naval task forces which shelled the island. Bigger bombs
and more bombs were used than ever before, and submarine and
air reconnaissance was carried out continuously.
was an important island; we had to have it. The war had entered
its final offensive phase, and to carry it to the Japanese
home islands we needed nearby bases. Iwo was 758 miles from
Tokyo, 727 miles beyond Saipan, and 3,791 miles from Pearl
Harbor. This is the unbelievable distance we had carried the
war across the Central Pacific, a drive in which the Fourth
Division had played a leading role for 13 months. No longer
would we be fighting against the perimeter of Japan's defenses
but in her very front yard. The bleak little island was to
be the last but one of the stepping stones to Tokyo.
were other reasons why we needed the island. Since our Superforts
began their mass raids on Japan, in the summer of 1944, the
loss of planes and pilots due to forced landings at sea had
been discouragingly high. Many, perhaps most, of these pilots
would have been saved had there been a friendly base en route.
In addition, Iwo was a base for interceptor planes which were
used by the Japanese against our B-29s. By capturing the island,
we would not only eliminate this threat but at the same time
convert Iwo Jima to positive use as a fighter base from which
escort planes could join B-29s on their way to Japan. It would
also provide an excellent emergency field for crippled aircraft.
Fourth Division formed but a small part of the vast assemblage
of naval, air, and land power that eventually crushed the enemy
stronghold. Yet, the months of preparatory bombardment, the
neutralization raids on nearby bases and against Japan itself,
were only preliminaries, conducted for the purpose of putting
Marines in a position to seize the island. As in every amphibious
operation, foot troops would have to do the decisive fighting.
Japanese themselves were well aware that Iwo was earmarked
for invasion, for it was a logical objective, once we had taken
the Marianas. Furthermore, our air and naval strikes virtually
advertised our intentions. After the fall of Saipan, the Japanese
began an intensive program of defense construction designed
to make the island impregnable. Some of the finest troops of
the Japanese Army were sent to garrison it, and an unusually
high percentage of artillery and antitank units were included.
Large stocks of food and ammunition were stored. The construction
of bunkers and blockhouses, much of which was photographed
by our planes, went on feverishly.
was the picture when the convoy drew up to the shores of Iwo
during the dark morning hours of February 19. The enemy was
ready and waiting-as ready as he would ever be. One and one-half
days of bombardment by our warships and carrier planes destroyed
many of his beach defenses while his troops waiting in deep
caves, sweated out the rain of steel. Submarines and a screen
of surface vessels ringed the island, cutting it off from any
possibility of reinforcement. Yet, cunningly, the enemy knew
that Iwo's best and most formidable defenses had not been damaged-indeed,
they had not even been detected. For there was no way in which
aerial photography could discover the vast labyrinth of caves
that made the island an underground fortress, a Malta of the
knew that the battle would be tough, how tough was anybody's
guess. The terrain was admittedly rugged; the defenders, under
General Kuribayashi, numbered 23,000, almost as many as had
defended Saipan, although Iwo was but one ninth as large! Some
hint of the reception that awaited the attackers was given
on D minus 2, when a number of LCI gunboats, giving close in
support to our underwater demolition teams, were hit by accurate
shore fire. The enemy, mistaking the underwater demolition
teams for a landing force, announced that a landing had been
repulsed. Marines knew better, but the knowledge that Jap shore
batteries had inflicted damage upon some of our ships was not
seize the island, it was planned to put nearly three times
as many men ashore as there were defenders. The same chain
of command that planned and directed the invasion of Tinian
was to operate at Iwo: the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, under
Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, and the Fifth Amphibious
Corps, under Major General Harry Schmidt. The three divisions
composing the Fifth Amphibious Corps for the operation were
the Third, under Major General Graves B. Erskine, the Fourth,
under Major General Clifton B.Cates, and the Fifth-in battle
for the first time-under Major General Keller E. Rockey.
had been some changes in commands in the Fourth since Saipan.
The Twenty-fourth's former commanding officer, now Brigadier
General Franklin A. Hart, had become Assistant Division Commander.
The Twenty-third's Colonel Louis R. Jones had also been promoted
to Brigadier General and became Assistant Division Commander
of the First Division. Colonel Walter I. Jordan became commander
of the Twenty-fourth, Colonel Walter W. Wensinger, former D-3,
commanded the Twenty-third, and Colonel Edwin A. Pollock became
the D-3. Colonel John R. Lanigan took over the Twenty-fifth,
replacing Colonel Merton J. Batchelder, who became Chief of
Staff. Lieutenant Colonel Melvin L. Krulewitch headed the Support
Group. Altogether, more than 19,000 troops, many of whom had
joined the Division as replacements after the return from Saipan,
made the trip.
dawn on D-day Marines saw Iwo Jima for the first time. It was
unlike any other island they had ever seen. Instead of palm
trees and a white ribbon of beach which had first met their
gaze at Roi-Namur, or the green canefields of Saipan and Tinian,
they saw an ugly lump of volcanic sand and clay, which was
treeless, craggy, and blistered with endless sand hummocks.
Mount Suribachi, at the southern tip, loomed like something
out of the Inferno; the plateau at the north was a series of
ridges and hills, although little of it really hazardous character
could be appreciated from the ships. In the center of the island
lay the two air fields. The beach was not white, but black,
and the vegetation which grew sparsely, was wilted, burned
out colorless. It was as if, prophetically, Iwo was meant to
support not life, but death.
was 0900. By 0730 the ships were lying to, and troops were
going over the side. The plan of the landing called for the
Fourth and Fifth Divisions to land abreast on a beach 3500
yards long. The Third Division would land on call, as reserves.
Beginning at Mount Suribachi, the Fifth would land on the Green
and Red beaches, while the Fourth would assault the Yellow
and Blue beaches from a point fronting Motoyama Airfield No.
1 to the East Boat Basin. Landing on Beaches Yellow 1 and 2
would be the First and Second Battalions, Twenty-third, on
Blue 2, the First and Third Battalions, Twenty-fifth. The Twenty-fourth
was to be held in Division reserve.
0756 Admiral Turner's flagship broadcast the encouraging news: "Very
light swells. Boating: excellent. Visibility: excellent." Waves
of B-29s, glistening in the sun, roared overhead to drop blockbuster
and napalm bombs. A record number of battleships, cruisers,
and destroyers systematically shelled every target area. Hellcats,
sweeping in at treetop height, riddled the beach and airfields;
LCIs, close in to the shore, poured forth a continuous barrage
of rocket and 4.2-inch mortar fire. From all directions, from
ever type of weapon, molten steel rained on the island.
that moment it seemed that taking Iwo would be easy.
for a short time it appeared that it might be. When the first
waves left the line of departure at 0830, there was no sign
of life on the island. At 0849, eleven minutes before the first
waves were to land, aerial, observers reported: "No counterfire
as yet." The island was strangely, frighteningly quiet.
the first wave of armored amphtracs, spouting fire from their
cannon, neared the beach, enemy mortar and artillery shells
began landing in the surf. A few tractors were hit, and a few
planes went down from ack-ack. But as the first wave poured
ashore at 0902, troops encountered surprisingly little fire.
the Japs came to life. From the sand dunes, machine guns began
to chatter. Dual purpose guns, on the edge of the airfield,
were depressed to deliver plunging fire on advancing Marines.
From Mount Suribachi and the hills to the north, artillery
began to comb the beachhead in increasing intensity. Even in
demolished pillboxes and blockhouses, Japs were alive and fighting.
From that moment, until the end of D-Day, Marines clung to
their beachhead by their fingertips. True, our intensive shelling
had driven the Japs on the beach half crazy, and they fought
wildly, without organization or leadership, but the battle
raged bitterly all morning. The Japanese fought from trenches
and half wrecked pillboxes. Nothing but well aimed grenades,
flame throwers, and bayonets routed them.
four assault battalions had come ashore in forty-five minutes.
Tanks had also been landed from LSMs and were seeking passages
through the two terraces. A mist of smoke hung over the black
ash, and the acrid smell of cordite was everywhere. Giant bomb
craters pocked the beach. LSMs slipped in and landed bulldozers
and more tanks. LCVPs, following in the wake of the assault
waves, were landing with 37mm guns, radio and medical equipment,
jeeps, Seabees, and Shore Party personnel.
platoons advanced over the first terrace and made their way
toward the airfield. The Japs, organized in, depth, attempted
to hold the Marines to as narrow a beachhead as possible so
their artillery could fall with deadliest effect. Every defended
position had to be taken by total annihilation of the defenders.
enemy's tenacity was not the only thing which made the going
tough. Something which pre D-day aerial photographs couldn't
tell us was the character of the beach. It was composed of
loose, coarse, volcanic ash into which men's feet sank to the
ankles and jeeps sank to the hubcaps. Escarpments, or terraces,
some five to ten feet high, paralleled the shoreline in two
rows about 100 and 200 yards from the water's edge. Until they
could find passageways through these terraces, tanks wallowed
helplessly and were picked off by enemy guns. Trucks could
not operate at all, and supplies had to be manhandled from
the water's edge to the front. It was, in fact, like trying
to fight in a bin of loose wheat.
the Jap guns began to take their toll. Despite our concentrated
counterbattery fire and com-plete domination of the air, hostile
shelling increased as more and more guns were ranged in on
the beach. LSMs now found it extremely difficult to land men
and supplies, and virtually all those that tried it were hit.
The enemy laid down a curtain of steel along the water's edge,
and Seabees, Engineers, Pioneers, and evacuation stations were
in most cases harder hit than front line troops. Whole aid
stations were wiped out with one shell burst; LCVPs had to
run a gauntlet of fire to get out the wounded. Dumps containing
our much needed initial resupply of ammunition and demolitions
were blown sky high. The Japs were staking everything to annihilate
us on the beach.
afternoon came on, Marines of the Twenty-third had managed,
somehow, to push their lines to the base of the airfield, while
the Twenty-fifth had kept pace to the north. But "somehow" is
a vague word and can be explained only in terms of countless
acts of individual bravery working within the collective will
of the whole unit. Months, and years, of training lay behind
this unflinching action.
explains why a company could watch its captain and sometimes
most of its officers fall, and yet stick together as an effective
fighting unit. It explains why Corpsmen, without litters, with
half their supplies wrecked, with many of their own men wounded
and killed, could go on treating casualties, crawling to them
in the face of fire and then, using ponchos as stretchers,
get them to the beach and into a boat. It explains why an NCO
like Sergeant Darrell S. Cole, of the Twenty-third, could make
three trips from his own lines to the rear of a pillbox which
held up a whole platoon, and with grenades, wipe it out, giving
his own life in the doing. It explains why an officer like
Lieutenant Arthur W. Zimmerman, who, realizing that tanks were
needed at all cost, constantly exposed himself to direct their
fire against a blockhouse which had pinned down his platoon.
And it explains why a tankman like Sergeant James R. Haddix
could willingly station his tank by a shell hole full of trapped
Marines for four hours, until he had eliminated every Jap who
threatened them. These are but a few random examples of the "UNCOMMON
VALOR" which became, in the words of Admiral Nimitz, "A
COMMON VIRTUE" on Iwo.
mid-afternoon it was apparent that our assault units had been
depleted greatly and should be relieved. Both the First and
Second Battalions of the Twenty-third had made a frontal attack
on the airfield, suffering heavy casualties. At 1655 orders
were issued for the Second Battalion, Twenty-fourth, and the
Third (reserve) Battalion, Twenty-third, to land. (The Second
Battalion tied in with the First Battalion, Twenty-fifth, on
the right and the Third Battalion, Twenty-third, on the left.
The latter passed through the First Battalion, Twenty-third,
and occupied the edge of the airfield. This was completed by
the Twenty-fifth was having a stiff fight on its own front.
This Regiment had the difficult mission of not only landing
on a narrow front (one battalion had to land in a column of
companies) but also of executing a turning movement in preparation
for enveloping the heights to the immediate right. This turning
movement was executed in the face of heavy fire that inflicted
excessive casualties upon the Regiment. By 1200 the situation
was such that it was vital for Regimental Combat Team Twenty-five
to seize the high ground northeast of Beach Blue 2, from which
the heaviest volume of enemy fire was coming. Taking a desperate
gamble and committing all its reserves, the Regiment drove
across Blue 2, its strength rapidly diminishing as it advanced.
At 1745 two companies of the Third Battalion, under the courageous
leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Justice M. Chambers, seized
the high ground to the left of the quarry, and at 1830 Company
L placed 26 men above the quarry, where it engaged in a fire
fight until relieved, receiving 17 more casualties but holding
the ground tenaciously. At 1900 the front-line strength of
Chambers' Battalion was only 150 men, and at 0100 this Battalion
was relieved by the First Battalion, Twenty-fourth Marines.
The close of the day found the high ground taken and the beach
secured, but in this zone it had been accomplished at an expense
of 35 per cent of the personnel of the entire Regiment.
tanks had been ashore by 1300, and the First and Second Battalions
of the Fourteenth Regiment, preloaded in DUKWs, had landed
in direct support of the assault regiments, despite heavy opposition
and a bad surf which destroyed some of the guns. They were
in position and firing by late afternoon. Regimental Combat
Team Twenty-four, less the First and Second Battalions, which
had been previously attached to Regimental Combat Team Twenty-five
and Regimental Combat Team Twenty-three respectively, landed
and was in its assigned assembly area by 2030. Shore parties
and beach parties had also been set up and were in operation.
1700 all units were ordered to dig in and prepare for a night
counterattack. D-day, the most momentous and costliest D-day
of the Pacific war, was drawing to a close. More than 1,000
Fourth Division Marines had already been evacuated to hospital
ships; an undetermined number lay dead. And although the picture
was far from encouraging, we had opened a wedge in the "impregnable
island. The initial opposition had been overcome and
a beachhead extended some 500 yards inland. (To the south,
the Fifth Division had cut across the narrow neck of the island,
isolating Mount Suribachi.)
the enemy's numerous attempts to infiltrate and his constant
harassing fire, he staged no counterattack on the night of
D-day. He had learned his lesson on Saipan and Tinian. No longer
was he to fritter away his forces in piecemeal and ineffectual
counterattacks. This time he had determined to retain the advantage
of fighting from concealed positions and force us to come and
was not until the next morning, when Marines along the airfield
could look back on the beach, that the full extent of our losses
was apparent. 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 hulks of scores
of landing boats testified to high price we had paid to put
troops ashore. Tanks and halftracks 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.
gas masks, rifles, and clothing, ripped and shattered by shell
fragments, lay scattered across the beach. Toilet articles
and even letters were strewn among the debris, as though war
insisted on prying into the personal affairs of those it claimed.
scattered amid the wreckage was death. An officer in charge
of an LCT had been hit while trying to free his boat from the
sand and was blown in half; a life preserver supported the
trunk of his body in the water. Marines, killed on the beach,
were partially buried under the sand as the tide came in. Perhaps
a hand stretched rigidly out of the sand, and that was all.
in the face of this, Marines went on fighting.
the shock of D-day and the excessive casualties, the attack
jumped off on the following morning according to schedule.
Regimental Combat Team Twenty-three with one battalion of the
Twenty-fourth attached, and paced by tanks, took the airfield
against bitter resistance. But the Twenty-fifth, on the right
flank, with another battalion of the Twenty-fourth attached,
made little progress; minefields prohibited the use of tanks,
the terrain was rugged, and enemy resistance was fanatical.
The Regiment also continued to receive heavy flanking fire
from the heights to its right. In most places it advanced no
more than 200 yards by the end of the day. The Twenty-third,
in crossing the airfield, had moved its lines some 1000 yards
was clear that Iwo would be the Division's toughest battle.
By the end of the second day casualties totaled 2,011. And
now it was apparent that we were fighting a new kind of enemy,
not only fanatic and determined, but intelligent, well directed,
well armed, and prepared to fight from immensely superior positions.
As Lieutenant John C. Chapin wrote in a historical monograph
. . there was no cover from enemy fire. Japs deep in reinforced
concrete pillboxes laid down interlocking bands of fire that
cut whole companies to ribbons. Camouflage hid all the enemy
installations. The high ground on every side was honeycombed
with layer after layer of Jap emplacements, blockhouses, dugouts,
and observation posts. Their observation was perfect; whenever
the Marines made a move, the Japs watched every step, and when
the moment came, their mortars, rockets, machine guns, and
artilley--long ago zeroed-in--would smother the area in a murderous
blanket of fire. The counterbattery fire and preparatory barrages
of Marine artillery and naval gunfire were often ineffective,
for the Japs would merely retire to a lower level or inner
cave and wait until the storm had passed. Then they would emerge
and blast the advancing Marines."
was to be the situation for 24 grim days, the time it took
for the Division to go from Motoyama Airfield No. 1 to the
eastern coast just above Tachiiwa Point, a distance of slightly
more than three miles.
Division's records tell in detached, almost impersonal terms,
the story of the following day:
the early morning hours of February 21, an attempted infiltration
by about 100 Japs against the Twenty-fifth was repulsed, with
all enemy killed. The Fourth Battalion, Fourteenth Regiment,
completed landing. Only four guns were operative, seven having
been lost in the sinking of DUKWs and one having defective
sights. The Twenty-first Regiment of the Third Division landed
and was attached to the Fourth Division. At the close of fighting,
combat efficiency was estimated at 68 per cent. An advance
of 50 to 500 yards had been made on the Division front."
(The remainder of the Third Division, less theThird Regiment,
came ashore on February 24 and went into the line on February
25, at which time Regimental Combat Team Twenty-one reverted
to Third Division control.)
these records were concerned with the over-all picture rather
than the multitude of individual incidents, they couldn't tell
the human drama of this advance. But Combat Correspondent Dan
Levin, with the Twenty-fourth Regiment, recorded a typical
action. Six pillboxes held up a rifle company on the other
side of the airfield.
tanks had tried to knock them out, but were blown up by mines
while approaching the area. Then the battalion commander asked
Marine Gunner Ira Davidson, a 43-year-old 'regular,' from Chavies,
Kentucky, 'Could you get at those pillboxes with a 37?'
Gunner nodded. He scrambled through mortar fire to get six
of his men and a gun. They man-handled it across 200 yards
of open runway. One of the crew was killed, two wounded, another
shell-shocked. The Gunner and his remaining two men arrived
near the position, and [now aided by a few riflemen] nosed
the gun into position facing the pillboxes. He set his telescopic
sights and poured 12 to 15 HE shells into each pillbox.
stopped firing. The infantry moved up. In each pillbox they
found two to four dead Japs. Davidson had put his shots through
the firing slit of every pillbox so that the shells burst inside."
as if this weren't enough, three days later Gunner Davidson
assisted one of his gun crews in dragging a 37mm gun 250 yards
ahead of the front to demolish three light machine guns, a
medium machine gun, and an observation post. He was later awarded
the Silver Star for gallantry in action.
February 22, the Twenty-first Regiment, still attached to the
Fourth Division, passed through the Twenty-third and advanced
to the southeastern edge of both airstrips of Airfield No.
2, against continued bitter resistance.
was on the following day, February 23, that news reached the
Division that Old Glory had been raised on Mount Suribachi
following its capture by the Twenty-eighth Marines. No one
knew then--not even the men who had raised it--what an historic
moment it was to become. That discovery was to be made in the
photographic dark room on Guam, where Associated Press photographer
Joe Rosenthal's famous picture first saw light. But it made
Marines feel proud to know that after four days their flag
flew at the island's highest point. There was comfort, too,
in knowing that the enemy could no longer look down their backs.
February 23, the battle was begun for Airfield No. 2 and "Charlie-Dog
Ridge" (so called because it lay in target squares "C"
and "D") by Regimental Combat Team Twenty-four. The
fighting between the two airfields was among the bitterest on
Iwo. Probably no other section of the island of equal size boasted
such an elaborate system of defense. The wild terrain resembled,
with its hundreds of bomb craters, the surface of the moon. The
ash was ankle deep, and when the wind blew, it pelted the men's
faces like buckshot. The Japs had converted every dune into a
bunker from which the muzzles of machine guns and anti-tank weapons
attack was made following a heavy artillery bombardment and
was carried through this day and the next. When the infantry
charged they found Japs all around them. Captain LaVerne W.
Wagner, commander of an assault company in the Twenty-third,
participated in the assault on February 25, when that Regiment
returned to the lines, and he reported that more hand-to-hand
fighting took place in the day-long battle than in any engagement
he had ever seen. "The lines literally melted away," he
said. "We were chasing the Japs down trenches, and they
were chasing us. Grenade duels took place everywhere.' More
often than not, we found ourselves in the rear of Jap pillboxes
which were still doing business on the other side."
explanation for the tenacity of the enemy might lie in a document
found on the bodies of the majority of the enemy dead at this
time and which was also posted on pillbox walls. Apparently
disseminated by the Island Commander to raise and unite the
spirit of his troops, the document read in part as follows:
all else we shall dedicate ourselves and our entire strength
to the defense of this island.
We shall grasp bombs, charge the enemy tanks and destroy them.
We shall infiltrate into the midst of the enemy and annihilate
With every salvo we will, without fail, kill the enemy.
Each man will make it his duty to kill 10 of the enemy before
Until we are destroyed to the last man, we shall harass the enemy
by guerrilla tactics.
tenacity was no surprise. The Marines had encountered it before
many times. There was, however, one unexpected weapon in their
defense which caused no little consternation until its identity
was established. One thousand pound rockets, or "buzz
bombs," were launched from well behind the enemy's lines
against our installations on the beach and near the airfield.
Fired primarily at night, the "floating ashcan," or "bubbly-wubbly," chugged
across the sky like a slow freight, its motor clanking and
leaving a trail of fire behind it. The first few of these sailed
right off the island and Marines laughed at them. Later, when
the Japs brought down their range, it wasn't so funny. They
were not accurate, but on the crowded island they occasionally
landed near a dump or in the midst of troops. Japanese prisoners
later admitted that they had been as afraid to set them off
as we were to have one land in our lines.
the enemy gave way-those who still lived in spite of battle
vows. Our tanks, although hampered by mines and loose sand,
managed to deliver the coup de grace to many Japs who tried
to flee. Casualties for the Division had mounted to 3,163,
but our objective had been gained. The Twenty-fourth Marines,
after a slow, bloody battle, had taken Charlie-Dog Ridge on
February 24. On February 25, that portion of Airfield No. 2
in the Fourth's zone of action had been secured.
these days, Lieutenant Jim G. Lucas wrote:
takes courage to stay at the front on Iwo Jima. It takes something
which we can't tag or classify to push out ahead of those lines,
against an unseen enemy who has survived two months of shell
and shock, who lives beneath the rocks of the island, an enemy
capable of suddenly appearing on your flanks or even at your
rear, and of disappearing back into his hole.
takes courage for officers to send their men ahead, when many
they've known since the Division came into existence have already
takes courage to crawl ahead, 100 yards a day, and get up the
next morning, count losses, and do it again.
that's the only way It can be done.
this time the beaches began to take on the semblance of order.
Enemy fire still landed on them intermittently, but supplies
poured in uninterruptedly, ammunition dumps were set up, a
beach road was started by the Engineers, and nine water distillation
plants were brought ashore. VMO-4 was the first to land its
planes on Airfield No. 1.
on the following day, February 26, began the week-long battle
for Hill 382 and Turkey Knob, the bitterest and costliest engagement
of the whole battle for Iwo. At some time or another almost
every battalion in the Division was committed in this battle.
When at last these strongpoints fell, the Japanese main line
of defense had been breached.
chain of defenses that made up Hill 382, the Amphitheater,
Turkey Knob, and Minami village was not only the backbone of
the Jap defense on northern Iwo, but the nerve center of the
whole island. A radar station, destroyed some time before,
several cleverly concealed observation posts and a large commuication
blockhouse gave the Japanese observation over all of our positions.
terrain was admirably suited for defense. An intelligence report
described the Hill as "a complicated mass of crevices,
15 to 50 feet deep which cover its surface, making it a bastion
of defense capable of receiving an attack from any quarter.
The crevices look worm eaten with caves. The monumental mass
of rocks, crags, and out-croppings furnish countless OP sites."
this the enemy had added every weapon which might be useful
in repelling an attack. Four tanks buried to their turrets,
commanded natural routes of approach. Antitank guns peered
down every crevice. Three 75mm AA guns, with their muzzles
depressed, looked down the throats of Marines. Twelve twin
mount guns, four heavy machine guns, and numerous Nambu and
Lewis type machine guns were scattered throughout. In addition,
there were at least 20 pillboxes and an uncounted number of
caves, some of the several tiers deep.
Hill, the Amphitheater, and Turkey Knob were all interdependent,
mutually defensive, and contstituted the key to the enemy's
cross-island and main defensive system. To the Twenty-third
Regiment went the job of assaulting the Hill while the Twenty-fifth
attacked the Amphitheater and Turkey Knob Jap positions on
the Knob were capable of delivering fire on the Hill and into
the Amphitheater. The Amphitheater, in turn, shielded the Knob.
The whole system would have to be stormed at once.
easiest way to describe the battle which followed is to say
that we took the Hill almost every time we attacked--and that
the Japs took it back. The first assault was made by the Third
Battalion, Twenty-third, under Major James S. Scales. After
a day of bitter fighting, two companies reached the summit,
but their strength had been so depleted that they were unable
to hold their gains and retired under cover of smoke screen.
The Japs were cagily withdrawing from the Hill, when it became
apparent that they could not hold it, and then directing mortar
and artillery fire on it. When we withdrew they returned to
battalion of the Twenty-fourth was encountering the same fanatic
resistance in the Amphitheater, where camouflaged cave entrances
concealed machine guns which played havoc with our exposed
troop. As for the Twenty-fifth, moving in on Turkey Knob, Division
records state: "Both flanks received a murderous concentration
of heavy mortar fire which was extremely accurate."
pattern was repeated day after day---a charge that put Marines
on the Hill and in the Amphitheater with comparative ease,
then a day of bitter fighting in which the enemy seemed to
appear from everywhere to disorganize our forces and cut them
up, and finally a withdrawal at dusk, with the wounded being
carried and dragged to safety.
March 1, four days after the beginning of the battle, Colonel
Walter W. Wensinger's battered and weary men of the Twenty-third
were relieved by the Second Battalion, Twenty-fourth, under
Lieutenan Colonel Richard Rothwell. Elements of the Twenty-third
which had not yet been committed in this sector then relieved
the Twenty-fifth in the Amphitheater and around Turkey Knob.
Such was the line up as the battle for these strongpoints went
into its final stages.
four more days the fighting see sawed. Captain Wagner's K Company
of the Twenty-third slowl blasted the Amphitheater's caves
until, finally, the big blockhouse near Turkey Knob, which
had withstood every kind of air and artillery assault, could
be brought under direct attack. The Second Battalion, Twenty-fourth,
hammered away at the Hill, gradually knocking out one position
after another, sealing caves, and destroying OP sites. At last,
a 75mm pack howitzer from the First Battalion, Fourteenth Marines,
was taken to the front lines and manhandled into position to
deliver point blank fire at the blockhouse near Turkey Knob.
Then demolition teams crawled close enough to breach its walls.
A flame throwing tank delivered the coup de grace.
things had not gone well with Rothwell's men. They had succeeded
in scaling the hill, but the losses had been extremely heavy.
A jinx seemed to hang over Company E. Commander after commander
was killed or wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Rothwell couldn't
seem to send replacements fast enough. One young second lieutenant,
Richard Reich, who had joined the outfit just before the operation,
found himself in command repeatedly while awaiting the arrival
of another captain. "They came so fast,"
he said, "I didn't even get their names."
last Captain Walter J. Ridlon's F Company, and what remained
of E Company, aided by a depleted platoon of C Company, reached
the summit, and stayed there. Turkey Knob had fallen a short
time before and the Amphitheater too was in our hands. The
whole defense bastion collapsed at once. On March 3, Hill 382
was officially ours, but it had been taken at a terrible cost.
Casualties now totaled 6,591 men. Despite fresh replacements,
combat efficiency of the Division was down to 50 per cent.
brave men died on Hill 382, in the Amphitheater, and in the
storming of Turkey Knob, and there were many noteworthy acts
of bravery. Again, it can be said that no one outfit deserves
the credit. All three infantry regiments were involved. The
Engineers furnished sappers and demolitions teams. Joint Assault
Signal Teams and artillery forward observers were at the front
with riflemen. Quartermaster personnel brought up food and
ammunition under fire. And corpsmen, as always, were to be
found wherever a Marine was in distress.
skill and quick thinking of these corpsmen is best illustrated
by the action of Pharmacist's Mate Second Class Cecil A. Bryan.
During the battle he saw First Sergeant Fred W. Lunch, a member
of the Twenty-fourth, fall wounded. Bryan ran to him and saw
that the "Top's" windpipe had been severed by a shell
fragment. Unless something were done immediately, the Marine
would be dead within a few minutes. Bryan thought fast. He
knew that he had to give Lunch an artificial windpipe. Grabbing
his aid pouch, he yanked out a piece of rubber tubing used
for plasma transfusions, cut off six inches, and thrust it
into Lunch's throat. Then he carried his patient, barely alive
and bleeding freely, to an evacuation station. Today, Lunch
is living and able to talk. Bryan won the Silver Star.
under similar conditions were the medical officers. No group
of men worked harder, none received more praise from the Marines.
They were to be found as close to the front as they could get
their aid stations. And back at the edge of the airfield, where
a Division hospital had been set up, 17 doctors (four operating
teams) worked twenty-four hours a day on casualties, under
the supervision of Commander Reuben L. Sharp, commander of
the Fourth Medical Battalion. In one day alone, 400 pints of
whole blood were used.
battle was not over. Although we had the commanding ground,
the Japs still held out in hundreds of caves and could not
yet be considered an unorganized foe. From now on the fight
was to be, more than ever, a matter of cave warfare. On March
4 alone, the Twenty-third used 2,200 pounds of demolitions
in blasting cave entrances and exits. On this same day, the
direction of attack was changed so that the whole Division
executed a pivotal movement and advanced toward the coast,
parallel to the terrain corridors, in a southeasterly direction.
5 was a day of reorganization and rest. The Division Reconnaissance
Company was attached to the depleted Twenty-fifth. Then, on
the following day, the attack was resumed with all three rifle
regiments abreast, preceded by the heaviest concentration of
artillery fire yet experienced in the battle. Using batteries
from the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Divisions and the Fifth Amphibious
Corps, a total of 12 battalions, reinforced by naval gunfire,
fired for 36 minutes. The Second and Third Battalions of the
Twenty-third then attacked in a column of battalions.
Division's records, summarizing the results of this attack,
state bluntly: "In extremely bitter fighting against caves,
pillboxes, and emplacements in rugged terrain, the Twenty-third
advanced approximately 100 yards, except on the extreme left,
where no gain was made."
the next two days the attack continued to be heartbreakingly
slow. The terrain was beyond th scope of imagination. Lieutenant
John Chapin describes it:
draws, ravines, cross compartments, and hills were all filled
with cave and tunnel system. Halftracks and tanks were unable
to move into the area. Advancing troops would be met with fire
from one quarter and when they attacked there, they would be
hit from a different side by Japs using underground passages.
The enemy had to be routed out by assault squads and their
weapons.... Anti-personnel mines were sown in cave mouths,
approaches, tunnels, paths; deadly accurate snipers were everywhere."
more Marines discovered what is always being forgotten in modern
war: that there are places which bombs and shells cannot reach.
Instead, they must be taken by men alone, willing to die.
and relentlessly, we pushed the enemy back. The pressure drove
him out of his hole at last. On the night of March 8-9, the
only organized night counterattack of the campaign was attempted
against our lines. From 1800 until 2000, rocket, mortar, grenade,
rifle, and machine-gun fire fell along the Division front followed
by a systematic infiltration against our lines. From the First
Battalion, Twenty-fifth, on the right, to the Second Battalion,
Twenty-third, on the left, continuous waves of Japs hammer
at our positions, and some broke through to command posts.
Hand-to-hand fighting took place all up and down the line and
in the command post of the Second Battalion, Twenty-third Marines.
Many Japs, carrying land mines strapped to their chests, came
at Marines in attempts to blow them up in a suicidal charge.
Others, seeing that the attack was a failure, killed themselves
with grenades. But the majority were killed by Marine riflemen
who lay in their foxholes and blasted every moving object.
The next morning 784 Jap bodies were counted. The attack had
been stopped, and although our own casualties by this time
had mounted to 8,094, and combat efficiency had fallen 45 per
cent, the end of the battle was in sight.
now, during the momentary lull in the fighting, many chaplains
held their first services. They been with the regiments all
through the battle, assisting in the aid stations. Combat Correspondent
Bob Cooke described one service at the front:
Catholic altar was a pile of water cans, the Protestant, the
radiator of a jeep. The communion rail was a mound of black
volcanic gravel.... Yet not in any of the world's great cathedrals
or churches was there more sincere reverence. Men ignored heavy
shells overhead. The chaplain's words were interrupted by the
roar of planes. Clouds of dust from tanks and bulldozers swept
the area. But the chaplain's vestments, the altar cloth, and
cross gleamed through the pall of the battlefield.
was no compulsion about attending these services, but almost
everyone went. Marines of all denominations joined in receiving
communion from chaplains whose robes did not conceal the leggings
and dungarees beneath. No loudspeaker was needed. Pitiably
few of our original 900 were physically present: many lay in
the new Fourth Division cemetery. But we did not feel that
they were totally gone from us. In this hour of prayer and
communion, our battalion was reunited."
March 10 began the final stage of the battle. The Twenty-fifth
Regiment closed off an enemy pocket and wiped out the strongpoints
within it while the Twenty-third seized commanding ground some
400 to 600 yards from the coast. The Japs were conducting a
purely passive defense from an intricate system of well concealed
caves which had to be located and sealed, one by one. At 1500,
patrols from Twenty-third reached the coast without encountering
opposition. By the following day, the Division front had advanced
to the ocean. The Twenty-fiftb, on the right, with one battalion
of the Twenty-fourth attached, was still meeting heavy opposition.
In this, the last pocket of resistance, an area of indescribably
wild terrain, the Japs chose to make their last stand.
March 12 to March 16, Regimental Combat Team Twenty-five was
occupied in cleaning out this pocket. In an area of resistance
studded with caves and emplacements and absolutely impenetrable
to tanks and other support weapons, the Jap defenders fought
until they were individually routed out and killed by riflemen,
demolition and grenade teams, and flame throwers.
March 12, General Cates sent the following message, transcribed
into Japanese, and broadcast by loudspeaker, to the Japanese
Brigade Commander believed to be in this pocket with his men:
The Brigade Commander:
This is the Commanding General of The Fourth Division, U. S.
Marines, making a direct appeal to the Brigade Commander and
his command to honorably surrender. You have fought a gallant
and heroic fight, but you must realize that the Island of Iwo
Jima has been lost to you. You can gain nothing by further resistance,
nor is there any reason to die when you can honorably surrender
and live to render valuable service to your country in the future.
I promise and guarantee you and the members of your staff the
best of treatment. I respectfully request you accept my terms
of honorable surrender. I again appeal to you in the name of
humanity---surrender without delay.
Fourth Marine Division
broadcast was repeated several times but the Brigade Commander,
if he heard it, chose to ignore the offer.
during the night of March 15-16, a party of nearly 60 Japs
tried to break out of the pocket but failed in the attempt
and were driven back to their caves. This defeat seemed to
break their spirit of resistance, and by 1000 on March 16,
the pocket had been secured.
the meantime, the remainder of the Division conducted extensive
mopping-up operations, policed the area, and buried the dead.
On March 12, the order had been given to secure all Fourth
Division artillery, for the section held by the enemy had no
longer constituted a practicable target area. The Fourteenth
Marines fired their last round---the 156,000th on Iwo. (In
63 days of warfare in the Pacific, this Regiment fired a total
of 350,000 rounds, for an average of 5,500 a day.) At 1800
on March 16, twenty-six days and nine hours after the first
troops landed, Iwo was declared secured. The greatest battle
in Marine Corps history was over. On March 19, the last units
of the Division boarded ship, and on the following day, the
convoy sailed for Maui.
Division had paid a heavy price. Nine thousand and ninety eight
men had become casualties, almost half the Division strength.
Of these, 1,806 were killed in action. It had been a battle
in which no quarter was given. An estimated 22,000 Japs had
been killed by the three divisions, 8,982 having been counted
in the Fourth's zone alone. Another thousand were believed
sealed in caves or buried by the enemy. Only 44 prisoners had
been taken by the Division.
our sacrifice had been an incalculable step forward in the
progress of the war. On March 4, Marines bad watched the first
crippled B-29 settle down on Airfield No.1. In the following
days the planes came in even greater numbers. (Within a few
months, the Army announced that 1,449 Superforts, with crews
totaling 15,938 men, had used Iwo as an emergency landing field.)
Army P-51 Mustangs were based on Iwo even before the fighting
stopped and soon were flying escort missions for the gigantic
raids on Japan.
back from the northern shores of the island, Marines could
see the miraculous transformation that had taken place. The
airfields had been repaired; and where the Japs had had dusty
little trails, our Engineers had constructed broad, hard packed
roads. Mountains of supplies, rows of tents, a few frame buildings,
and hundreds of trucks, jeeps, bulldozers, cranes, and caterpillar
tractors occupied what had been barren sand a few short weeks
before. And yet Marines knew that their flesh, and blood, and
sweat, told them that it was not these shields of steel that
counted but the iron hearts that men had carried inside them.
Our tanks and bulldozers and trucks were supported by the iron
hearts of the men who fell in the sand where they fought, through
with all battles.
was one constant reminder of this: the row upon row of glistening
white crosses and slabs that marked a tiny part of Iwo belonging
to the dead. It seemed as if they had agreed to occupy this
black and windswept bit of beach so that men's homes and country,
their ideals, their hopes and aspirations as Americans, might
be shared by the living.
of the Division, Reinforced - IWO JIMA
to History Index
The following link provides photos and details
of the story of the raising of the first flag at Iwo Jima: The
story of the first flag-raising at Iwo Jima