Division History

Iowa Jima: Red Blood on Black Sand

The 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.

Iwo 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.

There 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.

The 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.

The 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.

This 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 Pacific.

Marines 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 comforting.

To 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.

There 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.

At 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.

H-hour 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.

At 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.

At that moment it seemed that taking Iwo would be easy.

And 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.

As 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.

Then 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.

The 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.

Assault 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.

The 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.

Inexorably, 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.

As 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.

It 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.

By 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 1800.)

Meanwhile, 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.

All 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.

At 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.)

Despite 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 get him.

It 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.

Packs, 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.

And 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.

And in the face of this, Marines went on fighting.

Despite 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 ahead.

It 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 later:

". . . 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."

This 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.

The Division's records tell in detached, almost impersonal terms, the story of the following day:

"During 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.)

Because 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.

"Two 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?'

"The 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.

"They 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."

And 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.

On 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.

It 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.

On 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 jutted defiantly.

The 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."

One 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:

COURAGEOUS BATTLE VOW

Above 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 them.
With every salvo we will, without fail, kill the enemy.
Each man will make it his duty to kill 10 of the enemy before dying.
Until we are destroyed to the last man, we shall harass the enemy by guerrilla tactics.

Japanese 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.

Slowly, 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.

Of these days, Lieutenant Jim G. Lucas wrote:

"It 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.

"It takes courage for officers to send their men ahead, when many they've known since the Division came into existence have already gone.

"It takes courage to crawl ahead, 100 yards a day, and get up the next morning, count losses, and do it again.

“But that's the only way It can be done.”

During 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.

Then 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.

The 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.

The 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."

To 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.

The 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.

The 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 their positions.

A 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."

This 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.

On 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.

For 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.

But 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."

At 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.

Many 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.

The 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.

Working 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.

The 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.

March 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.

The 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."

During the next two days the attack continued to be heartbreakingly slow. The terrain was beyond th scope of imagination. Lieutenant John Chapin describes it:

"Crevices, 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."

Once 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.

Slowly 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.

And 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:

"The 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.

"There 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."

On 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.

From 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.

On 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:

12 March 1945

To: 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.

C.B. Cates
Commanding General
Fourth Marine Division

The broadcast was repeated several times but the Brigade Commander, if he heard it, chose to ignore the offer.

Finally, 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.

In 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.

The 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.

But 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.

Looking 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.

There 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.

Casualties of the Division, Reinforced - IWO JIMA
Officers
Enlisted
Total
Killed in Action
78
1384
1462
Died of Wounds
14
330
344
Wounded
292
7000
7292
Totals
384
8714
9098

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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
Division History of the Fighting Fourth