Securing the Beachhead (D-Day to D+7)

D-Day, 19 February 1945

At 09:02 the first wave of LVT(A) s hit the beaches of Iwo Jima. The crews discovered that they could not drive their vehicles up the steep terraces behind the beaches; they were also too high for them to give supporting fire. As they withdrew into the water in search of inland targets, the first wave of LCVPs hit the beach and lowered their ramps, allowing hundreds of Marines to step ashore along the 3500-metre wide strip of dark volcanic sand. The time was 09:05.

For the first few minutes Japanese resistance was light and the Marines were relieved to find that there were no obstacles or minefields along the beach. Units quickly reorganised and clambered up the first terrace, finding it hard to walk as their feet sank into the volcanic ash. For a few minutes all was calm and as the first wave advanced inland, some wondered if the naval gunfire and air bombardment had subdued the Japanese. It had not. They were being watched from dozens of hidden bunkers and emplacements. Artillery and mortar crews, machine-gun teams and snipers waited with their fingers on their triggers as the Marines moved tentatively forward.

Suddenly the guns and mortars on Suribachi and the northern plateau opened fired at registered targets along the beach. At the same time the men who had sat out the bombardment in their concealed pillboxes and caves opened fire with machine guns and rifles. In a matter of minutes the whole beachhead was under fire as the Marines scrambled for cover behind the beach terraces or in bomb craters.

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Marines came ashore as follows from left to right:

5th Division

Colonel Harry B. Liversedge’s 28th Marines on Green Beach


Colonel Thomas A. Wornham’s 27th Marines on Red 1 and Red 2 Beaches

4th Division

Colonel Walter W. Wensinger’s 23rd Marines on Yellow 1 and Yellow 2 Beaches


Colonel John R. Lanigan’s 25th Marines on Blue 1 Beach

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The landing plan for the Marine Regimental Combat Teams.

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Clear the ramps! As the coxswain slows down ready to land, bullets begin to skim the waves. With only moments to go before the ramp drops, one man bows his head and prays he will survive. (NARA-127-GW-110823)

Squad leaders and platoon commanders did what they could to rally their men and get them to locate the Japanese bunkers but casualties were mounting and units were disintegrating. For the time being, men took orders to advance from the nearest officer or squad leader. They engaged anything in range and little by little the Marines edged forward.

However, wave after wave of men and vehicles were coming shore, adding to the congestion and confusion along the water’s edge. As jeeps and trucks bogged down in the soft sand, artillery and mortar shells rained down on the landing craft, many of which were swamped or broached on the shoreline and their crews joined the Marines in their battle to advance inland.

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Go, Go, Go! Bullets and shrapnel meet the Marines as they spill out onto the beach. RCT 26’s first wave is already pinned down at the top of the sand bank and the second wave needs to find cover on the exposed beach. (NARA-127-GW-111114)

Cutting off Hot Rocks (D+1 to D+4)

On the left flank, 28th Marines’ 1st Battalion landed first with Companies B and C abreast. Lieutenant Colonel Butterfield’s men pushed inland, looking to reach the western shore as quickly as possible, but while some squads moved fast, others became pinned down in front of one of the many bunkers and pillboxes; they all suffered heavy losses. At 10:35 Company B reached the opposite shore, cutting Mount Suribachi off from the rest of the island, and Company C was soon expanding the tiny foothold.

Company A mopped up behind them and as Corporal Tony Stein’s platoon advanced inland, he stood up so he could spot the Japanese guns, using his machine gun to draw their fire. He later captured a nest of pillboxes alone, killing 20 soldiers. After running out of ammunition, Stein removed his helmet and shoes and headed back to the beach for more, with a wounded man on his back. He continued his one-man rampage, carrying seven more wounded men back as he collected more ammunition. At the end of the day he covered the withdrawal of his platoon to the company position. Stein was killed in action on 1 March and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

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There is nowhere to hide as the artillery and machine guns on Mount Suribachi rake the beach with bullets and shrapnel. Bodies and debris litter the shoreline while the living try to find cover and get organised. (NARA-127-GW-111156)

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Despite the heavy fire, squad leaders and platoon officers begin to gather their men together, ready to advance. This group are looking for the rest of their company on Green Beach before moving towards Suribachi, codenamed Hot Rocks. (NARA-127-GW-110918)

2nd Battalion had started landing at 09:35 and Lieutenant Colonel Johnson’s men found it difficult to deploy under heavy mortar and artillery fire as they turned west to face the foot of Mount Suribachi. As casualties mounted, Colonel Harry B. Liversedge called for reinforcements and although Lieutenant Colonel Shepard’s 3rd Battalion was ashore by 13:00, it did not reach 2nd Battalion until late afternoon.

Lieutenant Colonel Collins’ 5th Tank Battalion supported 5th Division and Company C was sent ashore to help RCT 28. The landing craft had been warned not to land on Red 1 Beach due to congestion and heavy fire so the naval officers landed on Red 2 Beach. By 14:00 the company was ashore, having lost only one tank, and the 13 Sherman tanks, two flame tanks and tankdozer crawled towards the front line in single file. A hidden anti-tank gun stood in the column’s way and the Japanese crew were determined not to let them through; four tanks were hit before it was silenced.

At 11:30 General Rockey passed on General Schmidt’s order to exploit weak points in the Japanese lines to RCT 28. Colonel Liversedge was hoping to attack the foot of Mount Suribachi by mid afternoon but 3rd Battalion was not ready when 2nd Battalion attacked at 16:45. Although progress was made, 2nd Battalion had to withdraw at nightfall to maintain contact with 3rd Battalion.

27th Marines landed on the 1000-metre wide strip of beach designated Red 1 and Red 2. After reorganising, E and F Companies of Major Antonelli’s 2nd Battalion made good progress on the left as did Company C of Lieutenant Colonel Butler’s 1st Battalion. However, Company B landed 200 metres to the left of its planned position, resulting in a delay. Butler ordered Company A to put ashore and it took over the advance, moving rapidly alongside Company C across the southern end of the airfield.

Late in the morning Colonel Thomas A. Wornham was pleased to welcome Company B, 5th Tank Battalion ashore and two platoons helped 2nd Battalion reach the west coast by mid afternoon. A third platoon of tanks joined 1st Battalion but they were unable to make much progress across Airfield 1. Lieutenant Colonel Donn J. Robertson’s 3rd Battalion mopped up the area behind 2nd Battalion while Lieutenant Colonel Daniel C. Pollock’s 1st Battalion, 26th Marines came ashore to take up defensive positions behind RCT 27.

As dusk approached, General Rockey ordered his two regiments to consolidate their positions and dig in for the night. Although they were nowhere near the O-1 Line, 28th Marines had isolated Mount Suribachi, and 27th Marines had reached the western shore of Iwo Jima.

While 5th Division’s two assault regiments were pushing inland, Colonel Chester B. Graham’s 26th Marines spent most of the day offshore. It had been released as early as 10:00 and the men were in their craft an hour later when the order to proceed to the line of departure was given. There they waited for four hours until Red 1 Beach was cleared. The battalions then landed one after another and took up defensive positions at the southern end of Airfield 1.

Reconnaissance parties belonging to Colonel James D. Waller’s 13th Marines, 5th Division’s artillery regiment, went ashore mid morning, only to find that their selected battery positions were still in enemy hands. DUKWs of the 5th (Marine) and 471st (Army) Amphibian Truck Companies began taking the guns ashore in the early afternoon but bulldozers and LVTs had to tow each one off the beach. Although 3rd Battalion was firing at Mount Suribachi by dusk it took until the following morning to tow and manhandle the rest of the Regiment’s guns off the beach and into position. While the Marines found it relatively easy to get the 75mm pack howitzers guns into position, it required Herculean efforts to do the same for the heavier 105 howitzers.

4th Division Advances toward Airfield 1

Colonel Walter W. Wensinger’s 23rd Marines landed on Yellow 1 and Yellow 2 Beaches on the left of General Cates’ 4th Division’s sector. 1st Battalion came ashore on Yellow 1 Beach and as Lieutenant Colonel Haas’ Marines climbed over the terraces beyond the beach they came under heavy fire from Airfield 1. Sergeant Darrell S. Cole led his machine-gun section forward, destroying two emplacements with hand grenades on the way. When faced with another three Japanese pillboxes, he deployed his remaining machine gun and silenced the nearest one before the weapon jammed. He then advanced towards the others armed only with a pistol and grenades; he was killed after knocking out the first one. Cole’s actions allowed his company to take their objective; he was awarded the Medal Honor.

Major Davidson’s 2nd Battalion met the same difficulties after coming ashore on Yellow 2 Beach. Both battalions needed tanks and when the first of three LSMs of Company C, 4th Tank Battalion, approached the shore at 10:05, Colonel Wensinger was sure that his Marines would soon be on the airfield. Lieutenant Colonel Schmidt watched in horror as his first tank ashore bogged down in the soft sand, blocking the remaining four tanks on the LSM. The remaining twelve tanks came ashore without a hitch but three tanks were disabled when they ran over mines. The remaining tanks reached 1st Battalion, but heavy anti-tank fire stopped them moving beyond the embankment marking the airfield perimeter. They could not reach 2nd Battalion either because of the soft ash and the Marines were forced to attack a large strongpoint alone; it took until the late afternoon to overrun it and reach the airfield perimeter.

It was clear that 23rd Marines needed reinforcements if it was going to get to Airfield 1 and at 13:00 Major Scales was ordered to put 3/23rd Marines ashore on Yellow 1 Beach. In spite of heavy casualties on the beach, it passed through 1st Battalion and reachedthe airfield perimeter by nightfall. General Cates had also ordered the 1st and 2nd Battalions of Colonel Walter I. Jordan’s 24th Marines ashore at 14:00. While 2nd Battalion relieved the shattered 2/23rd Marines at the airfield, 1st Battalion dug in as a reserve.

Colonel John R. Lanigan’s 25th Marines landed on 4th Division’s right flank on Blue 1 Beach and the southern edge of Blue 2 Beach while the Japanese watched from the quarry cliffs to the northeast. They did not watch for long and the beaches came under heavy fire as the regiment advanced in two directions. Lieutenant Colonel Mustain’s 1st Battalion went quickly inland on the left, reaching the airfield before noon. Lieutenant Colonel Chambers’ 3rd Battalion ran into difficulties as it set about clearing Blue 2 Beach and the quarry area. The battalion headquarters and Company L landed on 1st Battalion’s beach while the rest of 3rd Battalion lost contact with 1st Battalion as it headed northeast towards the quarry.

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RCT 25 Regiment came under intense fire as soon as it advanced off Blue Beach on the right flank. While 1st Battalion crawled forward, 3rd Battalion took heavy casualties trying to reach the Quarry area.(NARA-127-GW-110108)

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The momentum of the assault on the Quarry area was threatened by heavy casualties but Lieutenant Colonel Chambers reorganised his men and inspired them to attack the critical high ground. He lost most of his officers and carried out many tasks himself during the eight-hour battle for the Quarry. Chambers was critically wounded while directing the rocket platoon’s fire and was evacuated under heavy fire; he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his part in securing the beachhead’s right flank.

1st Battalion also encountered difficulties as it turned north and advanced under heavy fire across Airfield 1. A second gap began to open in the Marines’ line as RCT 25 wheeled sharply away from RCT 23; Colonel John R. Lanigan had to deploy reserves to fill it.

The three LSMs carrying Company A, 4th Tank Battalion were all hit on Blue 1 Beach and they had to withdraw as soon as they had unloaded. The company tank dozer was knocked out while it carved a road off the beach, and although the rest of the company headed inland in column, they soon ran into a minefield. The tank crews then had to fight a battle with the Japanese gunners on the cliffs while engineers quickly cleared a way forward.

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In spite of the intense fire and heavy casualties the Marines kept pushing inland and by nightfall they had established a solid beach head. The white tape directs them to their assembly area. (NARA-127-GW-109821)

In the early afternoon Lieutenant Colonel Hudson’s 2nd Battalion came ashore on Blue 1 Beach and advanced through the regiment’s centre aiming to take the high ground northwest of the quarry. RCT 25 renewed its attack at 14:00 and although 3rd Battalion advanced to the top of the quarry it had lost 19 officers by nightfall. Elsewhere progress was slow and casualties were high. While 1st Battalion was unable to hold the ground it had taken near Airfield 1, 2nd Battalion captured the ridge line northwest of the quarry.

By the time Colonel Lanigan joined his advance command post, 25th Marines had secured the eastern end of the beachhead and Lieutenant Colonel Vandegrift’s 3/24th Battalion was in reserve. Although it would take most of the night to reorganise and evacuate casualties, Lanigan’s men would be ready to renew the attack the following morning.

Reconnaissance parties belonging to Colonel Louis G. DeHaven’s 14th Marines, 4th Division’s artillery regiment, found that many battery positions were still in enemy hands when they went ashore. Only 1st and 2nd Battalion’s DUKWs put ashore and by the time tractors had dragged their artillery pieces inland it was too dark to fire at observed targets.

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The Amphibious Support Force gave fire support all day and many support vessels were hit as they fought a running battle with the Japanese coastal guns. The 606 aircraft belonging to Task Force 52 and Task Force 58 flew missions throughout the day. They fired 2254 rockets, delivered over 100 napalm bombs and dropped 274,500lbs of bombs.

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Japanese mortars, machine guns and anti-tank guns continued to hit the congested beach as landing craft brought supplies ashore. (NARA-127-GW-110271)

The beach was a congested mess of men, equipment and stores and the Japanese guns shelled it mercilessly throughout the day. Only ammunition, rations, water and signal equipment were delivered on D-Day by a continuous stream of LCVPs and LCMs. Shore party teams stacked supplies above the high water mark so the landing craft could withdraw, while LVTs and Weasels worked around the clock, hauling supplies to inland dumps before returning with wounded men. Meanwhile, amtracs ferried stores directly from the LSTs to the Marines.

Unloading stopped when nightfall approached and the shore parties spent the night clearing mines and cutting routes off the beach. Meanwhile, many wounded spent the night on the beach, lying helplessly near the waterline while shells exploded around them. Most of the transports and vessels withdrew to a safe distance at nghtfall but the command ships, preloaded LSTs and hospital LSTs remained close to the beach.

By the end of D-Day neither 5th nor 4th Marine Divisions were anywhere near the O-1 Line set by V Amphibious Corps; but it was highly unlikely that the Japanese would be able to drive them back into the sea. Six Marine regiments, six artillery battalions and two tank battalions were ashore and they were holding a virtually continuous front with the few gaps covered by fire.

Although the Japanese defenders only tried one counterattack against RCT 27 during the night, they did pound the Marines’ lines with mortars and artillery. They also tried to infiltrate the Marines’ lines at several points but were all stopped. 1/28th Marines engaged a barge which tried to land on the west coast, killing everyone onboard.

The initial reports on casualties on D-Day were exaggerated due to the high number of men missing from their units. Many had joined the first platoon commander or squad leader they met on the beach and fought under them until nightfall. They returned to their units during the night. While the accurate casualty figures are shockingly high, they were lower than expected and V Amphibious Corps’ assessments of the regiments’ combat efficiency ranged from very good to excellent.

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V Corps casualty figures for D-Day were later determined to be over 2300 – one man killed or injured for every 1.5 metres of Iwo Jima’s beach.

Killed in action


Died of wounds


Wounded in action


Missing in action




The Battle for Hot Rocks (D+1 to D+4)

By the early morning of 20 February there were two distinct battle developing on Iwo Jima: the fight for Mount Suribachi at the southern end of the island and the advance north astride Airfield 1. General Kuribayashi had designed his defences to cope with such a situation and the Suribachi position was capable of fighting on without assistance. We will first consider the battle for Mount Suribachi.

28th Marines were in the shadow of the 500-foot-high extinct volcano and Colonel Liversedge planned to explore the base of the mountain for routes to the summit, while his artillery shelled the Japanese bunkers on the slopes above. Following a bombardment by naval guns and carrier aircraft, 2nd Battalion and 3rd Battalions attacked, even though the tanks were still waiting to be refuelled or rearmed. The mortars and artillery were also too close to target the Japanese positions, leaving the Marines reliant on their assault demolition teams to silence the enemy with flamethrowers and explosive charges. 28th Marines had hardly moved when the tanks joined the battle and they helped them advance another 200 yards before dusk.

After an uneasy night, 40 planes swooped low past Mount Suribachi on the morning of 21 February, striking targets close to RCT 28’s front lines. Once again the tanks were delayed and neither 1st Battalion nor 3rd Battalion could move until they arrived; they then advanced rapidly to the base of the mountain. Both flanks then pushed forward along the shoreline, aiming to reach Tobiishi Point at the southern tip of the island. By nightfall Colonel Liversedge’s men were entrenched in a semicircle at the foot of Suribachi while the Japanese in their bunkers overhead were unable to bring their guns to bear on the Marines.

While 2nd Battalion mopped up RCT 28’s rear area, Private First Class Donald J. Ruhl crawled onto a bunker with his platoon guide. As they fired down on Japanese soldiers, a grenade landed next to them and Ruhl rolled on top of it to save his buddy’s life. He had already made a name for himself by helping to silence a blockhouse on D-Day before risking his life to rescue a wounded Marine lying in No Man’s Land the following day. Ruhl was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

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28th Marines prepare for the toughest task of all, the capture of Mount Suribachi. As fighters dive bomb the Japanese positions at the base of Hot Rocks, 105mm howitzers of the 13th Marines join in the bombardment. (NARA-127-GW-110141)

By 22 February, RCT 28 had been in action for 72 hours and Liversedge’s Marines had had little rest and only cold rations to eat. After three days of good weather, D+3 was a miserable reminder of how quickly it could deteriorate. Cold, drizzling rain and a driving wind soaked the Marines to the skin and turned the volcanic ash into a sludge that stuck to clothing and clogged weapons.

The bitterest fighting occurred in RCT 28’s centre because the tanks could not reach the area and the artillery were unable to give support. Instead the Marines used demolitions and flamethrowers to silence the bunkers at the base of Suribachi. Meanwhile, the patrols continued working their way around the mountain and they met at the southern tip of the island at 16:30. Although Hot Rocks had been surrounded, both patrols reported that naval gunfire and airstrikes had destroyed most of the paths up the steep slopes; the only way up was on the north face in 2nd Battalion’s zone.

On the morning of 23 February, Colonel Liversedge ordered Lieutenant Colonel Johnson to investigate the path and two 3-man patrols from Companies D and F set out at 09:00. Up and up they went, meeting no Japanese on the way, and 35 minutes later they reached summit and peered into Suribachi’s crater. 1st Lieutenant H. ‘George’ Schrier, Company E’s executive officer, then led a 40-man detachment up the steep path but they came under fire at the top. While some of Schrier’s men engaged the Japanese, others found a length of iron pipe and secured a small US flag, measuring no more than 54 inches by 28 inches, to one end; they then raised the Stars and Stripes on the summit of Mount Suribachi. It was 23 February, D+4, the time was 10:20 and Staff Sergeant Lewis Lowery, a journalist for Leatherneck Magazine, had caught it all on camera.

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Lieutenant Schrier’s group pose for the camera in front of their Stars and Stripes on the summit of Mount Suribachi. All eyes turned to the top of Hot Rocks and as the Marines cheered, the vessels offshore sounded their horns. (NARA-127-GW-112449)

Down below, men across the beachhead caught sight of the tiny flag fluttering in the breeze and pointed it out to their comrades. Before long every Marine and Navy man was cheering as they looked towards Suribachi while every vessel in the sea sounded their horns. The flag was an inspiring sight for the thousands of US servicemen on Iwo Jima.

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The second large Stars and Stripes flies proudly above Iwo Jima; now everyone could see it, including the Japanese. These artillery observers are using a high-powered telescope to spot enemy positions. (NARA-127-GW-113721)

Colonel Liversedge was furious to hear that higher command wanted the flag as a memento and he decided to replace it before it disappeared. Sergeant Michael Strank collected a larger flag (measuring 8 feet by 4 feet 8 inches) from LST 779 on the beach and carried it to the top followed by Joe Rosenthal, a photographer working for the Associated Press. An impromptu ceremony was organised and Rosenthal took the iconic picture of the second flag raising. His picture was the one that was splashed across every American newspaper over the days that followed and the ceremony has been immortalised by the US Marines memorial in Arlington, Virginia. The flag raising was timed to perfection because Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal and General Holland Smith had just stepped ashore.

The mountain provided a grandstand view of Iwo Jima and the huge fleet off shore and the Marine artillery observers quickly installed their flash-ranging equipment near the summit. The men of RCT 28 did not have time for sightseeing and both 1st and 2nd Battalions spent the afternoon blasting shut cave entrances and hunting down snipers. Many Japanese soldiers were entombed inside the mountain while others committed suicide rather than surrender.

40 men from Company E spent an uneasy night on the summit of Suribachi while the rest of the regiment dug in around the base. Over 120 Japanese tried to escape from the mountain under cover of darkness; they were all killed. Most of them had demolitions strapped to their bodies hoping to die gloriously for their Emperor. Another 2000 had had been killed or were buried alive beneath the mountain. 28th Marines had suffered 895 casualties in the five-day battle, 385 of them on the first day.

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The final message from Mount Suribachi’s garrisoncommander to General Kuribayashi read: ‘Enemy’s bombardments from the air and sea and their assaults with explosions are very fierce and if we ever try to stay and defend our present positions it will lead us to self-destruction. We should rather like to go out of our position and choose death by banzai charges.’

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Engineers seal the bunkers and caves on Mount Suribachi while the beach below is a hive of activity. (NARA-127-GW-109608)

The Battles for Airfield 1 and the Quarry (D+1 to D+2)

To the north the plan was to attack all along V Amphibious Corps’ 4000-metre front, following a bombardment by Marine artillery, naval gunfire and air strikes. General Schmidt wanted to complete the pivot north to the O-1 line and while 5th Division advanced along the west coast, 4th Division had to clear Airfield 1’s runways and taxiways. Both divisions had to work their way through a fortified zone of bunkers, pillboxes and caves, all camouflaged in the deadly maze of ravines and ridges.

Colonel Wornham’s RCT 27 controlled 5th Division’s sector, and 1/26th and 3/27th Marines encountered Japanese pillboxes protected by minefields as they moved forward. As they closed in to silence each position, the Japanese mortars and artillery seemed to know exactly when to shoot and where to aim to inflict maximum casualties on the Marines. But with the help of Companies A and B, 5th Tank Battalion, both battalions managed to advance 800 yards.

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The advance northeast between D+1 and D+7 (20–26 February).

Two men of 1/26th Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor. Captain Robert H. Dunlap repeatedly crawled forward alone along the cliffs to locate Japanese-held caves. After reporting their location to the artillery and the ships off shore, he risked his life to personally direct their salvoes. Seventeen-year-old Private Jacklyn H. Lucas (he enlisted at the age of fourteen without consent) and three other Marines were ambushed in a narrow ravine. Lucas dived on two grenades when they landed at their feet, absorbing the blast; he was the youngest recipient of the Medal of Honor since the American Civil War. He lived to the age of 80 with more than 200 pieces of shrapnel still in his body.

Colonel Wensinger’s RCT 23 had to advance across Airfield 1 on 4th Division’s left and both 3/23rd and 2/24th Marines drew heavy fire from every direction as they advanced across the airfield’s exposed runway; they both reached the northern perimeter by midday. Anti-tank fire stopped 4th Tank Battalion’s Company C crossing the runway, leaving Wensinger’s Marines to push on alone beyond the airfield, having overrun an important position held by Colonel Ikeda’s 1/145th Battalion.

Colonel Lanigan’s RCT 25 had to improve its situation on the ridge overlooking Blue Beach and once 2/25th Marines had captured the high ground in the centre of the regiment’s sector, 1/25th Marines could advance alongside RCT 23 on the left. Disaster struck before zero hour when a mortar shell hit 2/25th Battalion’s command post wounding several senior officers, including the commanding officers of both the battalion and Company B, 4th Tank Battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Taul, 3/25th Battalion’s executive officer, took command and although the attack began on time, the Marines made little progress in the face of heavy crossfire.

RCT 25’s bad luck continued when 1/25th Battalion’s command post received a direct hit while 1/24th Battalion was hit twice by friendly fire, by an air strike and then an artillery strike and naval gunfire. Despite the problems, Colonel Lanigan was able to report that RCT 25 had pushed its left flank forward by 200 yards.

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After spending an anxious night on the beach, these Marines could not wait to be evacuated to one of the hospital ships. (NARA-127-GW-110217)

The build up of supplies continued as the landing craft continued to deliver their cargo to the beach. RCT 25 had to carry their supplies forward by hand from Blue Beach because the LVTs could not reach the front line. All day the Japanese mortars and artillery targeted the beaches and routes inland, hitting supply dumps, evacuation stations and command posts. Shells fell indiscriminately on the congested beaches and wounded men were often hit a second time as they waited to be evacuated.

General Schmidt had ordered Colonel Hartnel J. Withers’ RCT 21 to prepare to go ashore but reports concerning the number of broached landing craft, bogged down vehicles and wreckage on the beach made him reconsider his decision. As the wind increased in the early afternoon, so did the surf and RCT 21 had to re-embark and wait for new orders.

General Cates also wanted the rest of his artillery ashore as soon as possible and although 3rd Battalion was launched mid morning it did not go ashore until mid afternoon and it was nightfall before its 105mm howitzers were engaging targets. 4th Battalion was launched into rough water in the afternoon and eight DUKWs floundered and sank, taking over half of the battalion’s weapons to the seabed. The survivors did not reach their gun pits until midnight. The first 155mm Howitzer battery belonging to corps artillery came ashore in the afternoon and tractors had to drag them one by one to their firing positions on the west coast.

General Schmidt considered V Amphibious Corps’ situation as night fell on 20 February. While progress was being made, casualties were mounting and the beach situation was a growing concern. On the front line, the Marines faced a second disturbed night, as illumination shells and flares lit the sky and gunfire support ships shelled the shore. Yet again the Japanese seemed to be consolidating their positions and they only made two counterattacks; both were stopped in their tracks.

The battle to the northeast began with an early morning barrage of artillery, rockets and naval guns, fired as close to the Marines’ positions as the gunners dared. 68 carrier-based planes then hit the area ahead of the Marines’ positions.

Along the coast, RCT 27 faced automatic and rifle fire from hidden pillboxes and caves but Colonel Wornham’s Marines advanced 1000 yards alongside Sherman tanks towards O-1 line. In 4th Division’s sector 23rd and 25th Marines came under heavy fire from positions covering Airfield 2 when they tried to advance. The tanks ran into minefields covered by anti-tank guns and it took the engineers time to crawl forward and clear a route forward. 23rd Marines advanced 100 metres while 25th Marines advanced less than 50 metres.

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Sergeant Ross F. Gray, 1/25th Marines, cleared a way through a minefield to reach the emplacements which were pinning down his platoon. He then returned for a satchel charge and used it to destroy the first bunker; he repeated the process until all six bunkers had been silenced. Gray was killed in action six days later. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

In RCT 24’s sector, Captain Joseph J. McCarthy’s company was pinned down on the edge of Airfield 2 so he gathered together a demolitions and flamethrower team to accompany his rifle squad. They crossed the exposed runway under heavy fire and knocked out two pillboxes on the ridge beyond. McCarthy went on to risk his life several times to save the lives of his men; he was awarded the Medal of Honor. 1/24th Marines advanced the furthest on the right flank, moving 300 yards through the pillboxes and bunkers along the cliffs overlooking East Boat Basin.

General Rockey had left USS Cecil (APA 96) in the early afternoon and he set up 5th Division headquarters at the southern end of Airfield 1. Brigadier General Franklin A. Hart, 4th Marine Division’s assistant division commander, was already ashore and while he recommended using RCT 21 to relieve RCT 23, it would be impossible to relieve the battered 25th Marines.

The improved weather conditions on D+2 meant that 21st Marines could land on Yellow Beaches during the afternoon and by the evening Colonel Withers’ men were in reserve near Airfield 1. However, Blue 1 Beach was under heavy fire and an exploding ammunition dump was endangering everything on Blue and Yellow Beaches. Hart also recommended leaving the division headquarters on board USS Bayfield (APA 33) until the following day.

The night of 21/22 February was another one of harassing fire, local counterattacks and infiltration for the Marines. Around midnight 200 enemy troops were spotted advancing from Airfield 2 towards 4th Division, but artillery and naval gun fire dispersed them before they reached the Marines’ lines.

The action was not confined to the island on 21 February; around 50 Japanese planes began a three-hour Kamikaze attack against the carrier fleet in the late afternoon. The suicide pilots crashed their planes into three carriers: the Bismarck Sea (CVE 95) was sunk; the Saratoga (CV 3) was badly damaged and withdrawn; and Lunga Point (CVE 94) was hit but continued operations. The Keokuk (AKN 4) and LST 477 were also damaged but the LST was able to land its tanks before withdrawing.

The Advance towards Airfield 2 and Minami (D+3 and D+4)

Offshore, part of Admiral Spruance’s fast carrier force, Task Force 58, left Iwo Jima on 22 February and headed north so it could resume its air strikes against Tokyo. It left behind Task Group 58.5, with the carrier Enterprise, the cruisers Baltimore and Flint, and Destroyer Squadron 54, to provide night fighter protection. The planes on Admiral Durgin’s carrier support force would take over close support missions from now on. These planes were based on smaller carriers (CVEs) and they also had to carry out combat air patrols, anti-submarine patrols and searches for crashed aircrew. The change meant that the Marines would sometimes have to go without air support.

Cold, drizzling rain and a driving wind soaked the Marines to the skin on D+3 while the wet volcanic ash clogged up their weapons and clung to their boots. The advance towards the O-1 Line had been slower than anticipated while casualties had been higher. Fatigue was becoming a problem after three days in action and both Generals Rockey and Cates were anxious to relieve some of their front line units so they could rest and absorb replacements.

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While the rest of 4th Division cleared Airstrip 1, 24th Marines fought their way onto the high ground above the Quarry, losing over 100 men; many of them from friendly fire. There are anxious faces all along the front as zero hour approaches. (NARA-127-GW-111245)

Colonel Grahams’ RCT 26 relieved RCT 27 in 5th Division’s sector but a combination of bad luck, rain and heavy resistance meant that 3rd Battalion could not advance on the right flank. Both Lieutenant Colonel Trotti and the operations officer, Major Day, were killed, leaving a company commander in charge. Although 2nd Battalion advanced 400 yards along the coast by nightfall it had to withdraw to maintain contact with 3rd Battalion.

On 4th Division’s left flank, RCT 21 (attached from 3rd Division) took all morning to relieve RCT 23 and Colonel Withers’ Marines then found a maze of pillboxes covering Airfield 2 waiting for them. Tanks were unable to cross the rough terrain and Marines edged alone up the rocky slopes towards them. While heavy rain blinded both the carrier planes and the Marine artillery observers, the Japanese artillery and mortar crews continued firing on registered targets.

On 4th Division’s right flank, RCT 25 was hoping that its 1st Battalion would reach the O-1 Line. While Major Mee’s men advanced 200 yards, they had to withdraw due to RCT 21’s lack of progress on its flank. A rocket attack in 3rd Battalion’s sector flushed 200 Japanese soldiers out into the open and the Marines cut them down with their machine guns. It was one of the largest groups of enemy soldiers seen together on Iwo Jima.

The rain and mist continued into the night, and the Japanese took advantage of the conditions to make two counterattacks. After midnight, a group of Japanese swam ashore on the western beaches and infiltrated 27th Marines’ camp in 5th Division’s reserve. It took until dawn to hunt them all down. Around 100 Japanese also infiltrated 4th Division’s sector.

On 23 February RCT 26 was supposed to take the bluffs that dominated 5th Division’s sector on the western side of the island. Colonel Graham’s men could then fire onto the Japanese positions protecting Airfield 2 in 4th Division’s sector and he had permission to cross the divisional boundary if necessary. However, it was the Japanese around Airfield 2 who brought RCT 26 under heavy enfilade fire and General Rockey had to report that his Marines had made no progress. The fact that all his armour was re-equipping and reorganising had not helped.

On 4th Division’s left, RCT 21’s attack across Airfield 2 was doomed without supporting fire from RCT 26 and Colonel Withers’ eventually ordered his men to dig in along the southern perimeter of the runway. Corporal Hershel W. Williams began the day by escorting the tanks through a network of pillboxes. He then went on to spray each one with his flamethrower while his riflemen used demolition charges to knock them out. Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor for his part in RCT 21’s advance.

On 4th Division’s right, RCT 24 relieved RCT 25 and had advanced 300 yards before it was ordered to stop due to the holdup in RCT 21’s sector. The problem for V Amphibious Corps was that a delay in one sector had a knock-on effect on both flanks. The advance had to be even all along the line to stop gaps opening up, gaps that the Japanese would infiltrate.

While the battle raged around Airfield 2, the logistics operations along the beach were starting to become organised. D+3 had been a difficult day due to the poor weather and the rough surf stopped small craft and amphibious vehicles collecting the wounded. LST 807 had unloaded its supplies and the decision was taken to leave it on the beach as a temporary hospital ship; over 200 injured men were treated on the ship during the night. The calmer weather on D+4 meant that unloading could begin in earnest as the LSMs rushed vital supplies from the cargo ships to the shore, including 2500 rounds of badly needed 81mm ammunition. 25 tanks of Major Holly H. Evans’ 3rd Tank Battalion also landed. While the Japanese artillery fire on the beach had diminished, the routes off the beach were being improved. All these factors allowed the shore parties to tidy up the chaos. However, the weather forecast predicted a shift in the wind direction over the next 48 hours making the surf too rough to land on the eastern beaches. The Attack Force Commander ordered V Amphibious Corps to prepare the western beaches for unloading and the corps engineers spent all day preparing them for the shore parties.

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Lieutenant Michael F. Keleher, a battalion surgeon, described Blue Beach: ‘Wrecked boats, bogged-down jeeps, tractors and tanks; burning vehicles; casualties scattered all over.’ (NARA-127-GW-109604)

General Cates had left USS Bayfield on the morning of 23 February and opened 4th Division’s advance command post east of Airfield Number 1. With both the 4th and 5th Division commanders ashore, General Schmidt landed and discussed plans for renewing the attack in the morning.

Clearing Airfield 2 and the Advance to Charlie-Dog Ridge (D+5 to D+7)

The attack on 24 February opened with a naval bombardment of the Japanese positions covering Airfield 2. The corps artillery then joined in and finally the carrier planes flew over, carpeting the area with bombs and rockets. 5th Division had to hold its ground until 4th Division had cleared the ridge running between them and General Cates had placed it at the top of his priorities.

RCT 21’s armoured support ran into trouble on the taxiways connecting Airfield 1 to Airfield 2. Half the tanks were delayed by mines on the western taxiway and then stopped by anti-tank guns; after five had been knocked out, the rest withdrew. The other half had to wait until a route had been cleared through the minefield on the eastern taxiway. Eventually twelve tanks joined RCT 21 and by midday 3/21st Marines had crossed the runway and reached the high ground on the far side. Three times the Marines cleared the summit at bayonet point but each time they were driven off by Japanese artillery fire.

3rd Battalion persevered and Colonel Withers was pleased to report that his Marines had control of the runways having advanced nearly 800 yards. Tanks then accompanied 2nd Battalion onto the runway but only one company could get across. At the same time RCT 26 in 5th Division’s sector was making good progress west of Airfield 2. In fact it was advancing too fast and its 3rd Battalion had to withdraw due to enfilade fire from 3rd Division’s sector.

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Tanks often struggled to get across the tortuous terrain to help the Marines, but once they did the Japanese often withdrew. This Sherman, nicknamed Bed Bug, crawls forward past a grim faced group of Marines as they wait for the order to advance. (NARA-127-GW-109666)

In 4th Division’s sector, 2/24th Marines advanced quickly until it came under fire from Charlie-Dog Ridge at the eastern end of Airfield 2’s runway. Machine guns, snipers and anti-tank guns forced the Marines to look for cover and then the Japanese mortars and artillery zeroed in. Air and naval support were refused because the Marines were too close to the Japanese positions, so they had to drag four machine guns and a 37mm gun forward. Once they were in position, G Company renewed its advance, burning and blasting its way to the top of the ridge. When Company I had done the same, Company F advanced to Airfield 2’s runway making contact with RCT 21.

The southeast extension of Charlie-Dog Ridge was known as the Amphitheatre and the Japanese had a perfect field of fire over RCT 24’s line of advance. 3rd Battalion was hit by a devastating crossfire as it moved forward while the Japanese artillery and mortars knew exactly where to fire. The Marines were soon pinned down and the battalion’s mortars had to fire white phosphorous smoke to shield the medics while they evacuated the casualties; even the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Vandegrift Jr was wounded.

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Officer casualties were heavy but the survivors rallied their men and led them towards their objectives. Two company commanders discuss how to coordinate their covering fire. (NARA-127-GW-111107)

Meanwhile, 1st Battalion advanced 500 yards through the maze of ravines and caves along the coast, and although they were always under fire, they rarely saw the enemy. A report to the Japanese Naval Headquarters reported the bizarre battle RCT 24 was fighting. ‘At the present time there is the unusual situation in the southern sector area of our troops all being underground, while the enemy troops are above ground.’

During the morning General Schmidt left USS Auburn and came ashore to assume command of the battle. Although 4th Division had been unable to make any progress on the right, the salient in the centre of V Amphibious Corps’ centre had been eliminated where 3rd Division had made significant progress across Airfield 2. He found all manner of command posts, artillery positions, supply dumps and medical installations in the shadow of Mount Suribachi. 3rd Division’s command post only added to the congestion but General Erskine needed to be ashore to command the battle around Airfield 2. The rest of 3rd Division was coming ashore across Red 2 and Yellow 1 Beaches, an area renamed Black Beach. Rough surf conditions meant that LCMs were being used to transfer everything from ship to shore and it took all day to get 9th Marines and 3rd Tank Battalion ashore; 3rd Division’s artillery, 12th Marines could only land a battery of 75mm pack howitzers.

3rd Division took over Airfield 2 on 25 February and RCT 21 reverted to its control. General Graves B. Erskine had orders to advance beyond the airfield and across the Motoyama Plateau to Airfield 3. While the plateau was relatively flat, the Japanese had fortified it with bunkers, pillboxes, minefields and tank ditches. Observers on the hills either side of 3rd Division’s sector would also be able to bring down mortar and artillery fire where needed.

While RCT 9 passed through RCT 21, a battleship and two cruisers targeted the Japanese positions facing 3rd Division. Then the corps artillery shelled the area north of Airfield 2 followed by airstrikes. Even so, 1st Battalion suffered many casualties as it crossed Airfield 2’s runway and the high ground beyond. 2nd Battalion could not advance along the low ridge on the west side of the airfield and nine of the 26 tanks supporting its attack were knocked out. Colonel Howard N. Kenyon had to take the ridge to safeguard 1st Battalion’s position so 3rd Battalion was released from reserve to help 2nd Battalion. It too became pinned down and fell back in confusion after two company commanders were killed. It took until nightfall to stabilise the situation but 2nd Battalion was finally established on the all-important ridge.

V Amphibious Corps hit the Amphitheatre and Minami areas in front of 4th Division with all the artillery, naval gunfire and carrier planes it could muster. LVT(A)s from Company A, 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion also tried to give support from the sea but the choppy conditions meant they had to withdraw.

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A young Marine waits for orders to move out. He still has scraps of waterproofing attached to the end of his rifle. (NARA-127-GW-112202)

3/23rd Marines had taken over the eastern end of Airfield 2 on the morning of 25 February and it had to advance alone onto Charlie-Dog Ridge while the engineers cleared a route for its armoured support. Tanks could not reach RCT 24 either and 1st and 2nd Battalions only advanced 100 yards towards the Amphitheatre.

By D+6 General Schmidt was aware that the landing craft and ships had to be withdrawn soon so they could be prepared for the invasion of Okinawa. The beaches had to be cleared so they could be unloaded as quickly as possible, with ammunition being the number one priority. The eastern beaches were not enough, especially if the wind changed to an easterly direction, and the rest of the western beaches had to be developed. (The western beaches would eventually be codenamed as follows from north to south: Orange 1 and 2, White 1 and 2, Brown 1 and 2 and Purple.) It meant that 5th Division had to clear the Japanese from the high ground overlooking them.

5th Division had to advance on 26 February even though the ridge on its right was still in Japanese hands. While 2/27th Battalion advanced 400 yards along the coast, it was the division’s only success. The rest of RCT 26 was hit by crossfire from camouflaged bunkers to their front and hidden guns on the ridge to their flank. Neither 2nd nor 3rd Battalions had moved far when low cloud obscured the island, making it impossible for the artillery or the tanks to spot targets. There was still 900 yards to go to 5th Division’s next objective – the high ground around Hill 362A – and the Japanese could watch the Marines every move from the summit.

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Colonel Pollock receives his new orders at 1/26 Marines makeshift headquarters while runners lie in the sand, waiting to pass on the message. (NARA-127-GW-112670)

RCT 9’s attack in 3rd Division’s sector was a disaster and the only good news that Colonel Kenyon heard was that a flame tank had reached the far side of Hill Peter and burned out the escape tunnel. In 4th Division’s area, RCT 23 came under devastating fire on the slopes of Hill 382 but while 1st Battalion could not advance, 3rd Battalion could, owing to Private First Class Douglas T. Jacobson’s one-man crusade. After knocking out an anti-aircraft gun with his bazooka, he advanced towards the summit of Hill 382, destroying two machine-gun positions and two pillboxes. He then cleared a line of seven earth-covered rifle emplacements so that the rest of his platoon could get to the main one. Jacobson then joined another company, knocking out two pillboxes and a tank with his bazooka. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for destroying 16 enemy positions and killing around 75 Japanese.

The Japanese were not going to give up the hill without a fight; ‘The enemy was determined to deny us Hill 382, and his unusually heavy mortar barrage on it twice forced our troops to retire after having occupied the hill area.’ Both battalions had to postpone their attempts to take the hill until the following day and dug in close to the summit.

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25th Marines noticed that the ‘the enemy was now fighting to the death in pillboxes, foxholes and trenches in its area and is not retreating as he apparently formerly had done.’ The close proximity of the front lines meant that the artillery, the ships and the carrier planes could no longer give any assistance and to make matters worse, the tanks could not move through the rough terrain. The Marines had to fight on alone.

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