Securing the Island (D+8 to D+19)

On 28 February the engineers announced that Airfield 1 was open for business. It meant that the carrier-based planes could transfer ashore and continue to observe for the Marines’ artillery and hunt for Japanese battery positions. Their presence in the skies was enough to stop many guns crews firing, in case they were spotted. The first plane landed without any problems but the second plane was lost overboard before it could be launched. Ten more observation planes would transfer to Airfield 1 over the next two days.

By now V Amphibious Corps had all of its three divisions in line and they could not ease up the pressure, they had to keep attacking. 5th Division faced a difficult advance along the north coast towards Hill 362-A while 3rd Division had to take Hill 199-O and Hill Peter before advancing towards Airfield 3; 4th Division faced the area known as the ‘Meat Grinder’. We shall consider each division in turn over the next seven days of the bloody battle to break the Japanese resistance on Iwo Jima.

5th Division’s Advance to Hill 362A and Nishi Ridge (D+8 to D+14)

RCT 27 took over from RCT 26 on 27 February and Colonel Wornham had instructions to take Hill 362-A, an area of high ground dominating the north side of the island. 2nd Battalion made slow but steady progress along the beach and cliff tops and by nightfall it had advanced 500 metres, straightening out the division’s front line.

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The advance northeast between D+8 and D+14 (27 February–5 March).

The rest of RCT 27 ran into heavy opposition and while a nest of pillboxes stopped 1st Battalion after only 200 metres, 3rd Battalion struggled to advance because the tanks could not climb Hill 362A’s rocky slopes. Heavy machine-gun fire forced a halftrack armed with a 75mm gun to withdraw, leaving the Marines to tackle each bunker alone.

V Corps designated a new objective line for 5th Division on 28 February. The O-3 line would place General Rockey’s Marines across the northern side of the Motoyama plateau, overlooking the sea. However, there was a long way to go as RCT 27 was still 300 metres from the top of Hill 362A. 3rd Battalion managed to reach the foot of the hill and by the afternoon patrols were looking for a way up to the fortified summit. During the advance, Corpsman John H. Willis administered first aid to many Marines until he too was wounded but did not wait to be discharged from the aid post and returned to his company. After hearing about a man injured in No Man’s Land he crawled out and dragged him to the safety of a shellhole. While Willis administering blood plasma, the Japanese threw grenades at him; he threw back eight but the ninth exploded in his hand and killed him; he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

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Gunnery Sergeant William G. Walsh’s platoon had been forced to fall back down a steep slope under heavy fire during 2/27th Marines’ attack but it regroupedand he led it back up to the summit despite being outnumbered. One group of Japanese made a last stand, showering Walsh’s platoon with grenades and when one landed in their trench, he dived to the ground and absorbed the force of the explosion. Walsh was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

1st Battalion was also advancing onto the ridge south of Hill 362A aided by tanks when the Japanese counterattacked in the late afternoon. Although RCT 27 eventually stopped the attack, both of Colonel Wornham’s battalions had to withdraw; it was a disappointing end to a promising day.

RCT 28 cleared the summit of Hill 362A on 1 March and advanced into the valley beyond only to find another line of fortifications waiting for them along Nishi Ridge. Colonel Liversedge’s Marines were crossing the valley, split for most part by a steep-sided rocky ravine, to get to them, when they came under heavy fire from machine guns, snipers and mortars. 1st Battalion tried to outflank the death trap to bring the ridge under fire but found it impossible to advance. Only 3rd Battalion could advance on the left flank and it did so until it was ordered to stop and tie in with the rest of the regiment.

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With bayonet fixed, a Marine risks sniper fire to call out mortar hits on his platoon, hoping to locate the Japanese position for the artillery. (NARA-127-GW-109954)

On 2 March General Schmidt ordered General Rockey to make his main effort on the right to keep in contact with 3rd Division on the Motoyama Plateau. Although he had designated half the corps’ artillery to support RCT 26, the Japanese soldiers kept close to the Marines’ lines to avoid the barrage. The area was a mass of broken rocks and although there were few bunkers in the area, at times it seemed that there was a Japanese soldier hiding behind every rock and in every crevice. Even so, 3rd Battalion advanced on to the eastern end of Nishi Ridge, and Colonel Graham ordered the rest of the regiment forward to cover its flanks.

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Large support landing craft used their 40mm guns to target the caves and ravines on the west coast in support of 5th Division’s advance. The observers became experts at distinguishing between friendly and enemy troops and the division placed its own observer teams aboard on 28 February. The landing craft played a valuable role in stopping Japanese attempts to reach the supply dumps on the western beaches.

In RCT 28’s zone to the west, 1st and 2nd Battalions put suppressive fire on Nishi Ridge while a tank dozer and an armoured bulldozer made a road across an anti-tank ditch. Once 5th Battalion’s tanks could get forward, so could the Marines, and they worked closely together as they inched up the slopes of Nishi Ridge. Colonel Liversedge was delighted to hear that 1st and 2nd Battalions reached the crest and even more so when they stopped the Japanese retaking it in the afternoon. RCT 28 now had a foothold on the high ground overlooking the north end of the island. 3rd Battalion had also edged forward along the rugged coastline, clearing over 60 caves.

5th Division held an uneven line by nightfall on 2 March but the morning attack soon evened it out when all three battalions moved into extremely rugged terrain. It was later described by the division intelligence officer:

Volcanic eruption has littered the whole northern end of the island with outcrops of sandstone and loose rock. The sandstone outcrops made cave digging easy for the Japs … Our troops obtained cover only by defilade or by piling loose rocks on the surface to form rock-revetted positions. A series of irregularly eroded, crisscrossed gorges with precipitous sides resulted in a series of compartments of various shapes. These were usually small but some extended for several hundred metres. The compartments were lined with a labyrinth of natural and artificial caves which covered the approaches from all directions. Fields of fire were usually limited to 25 metres and a unique or at least unusual characteristic of the Japanese defensive positions in this area was that the reverse slopes were as strongly fortified as were the forward slopes.

The fighting was at close quarters so neither the artillery, navy nor aircraft could not help and General Rockey’s Marines had to work alongside tanks and half-tracks or manhandle 37mm guns forward. All companies suffered heavy casualties in the rocky maze but they kept advancing and news that 2/26th Marines had reached the summit of Hill 362B in the late afternoon was welcomed by all.

Three men of 26th Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor for deeds performed on 3 March. Platoon corpsman George E. Wahlen had risked his life several times on 26 February to save the men in his platoon despite his own injuries, even treating casualties of another platoon. He did the same during 2nd Battalion’s advance on 2 and 3 March, again ignoring his own injuries to save others.

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Marines have manhandled this howitzer into rough terrain where tanks could not travel so they could fire directly at a Japanese bunker. (NARA-127-GW-113644)

Private First Class William R. Caddy of 3rd Battalion was advancing with his platoon leader and another Marine when a sniper forced them to find shelter in a shellhole. During the fight that followed a grenade landed amongst them and Caddy threw himself upon it; he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

During the night hours, Japanese soldiers launched a surprise attack against 1st Battalion and when a grenade fell into Corporal Charles J. Berry’s foxhole he dived on the missile to save his comrades; he was also posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice.

Two men of 28th Marines were also awarded the Medal of Honor. Platoon corpsman Jack Williams went in front of 3rd Battalion’s lines to rescue a wounded Marine under fire. After dragging him into a shallow depression he administered first aid, screening the injured man with his body. He was hit three times but completed his work before dressing his own wounds. Williams was killed by a sniper while heading back after assisting another wounded man.

Later that evening Sergeant William G. Harrell was guarding a company command post when the Japanese infiltrated 1st Battalion’s lines. He fought a number of soldiers for several hours, losing both hands and suffering a fractured thigh in the vicious battle. Almost incredibly, an exhausted and bleeding Harrell was found the following morning surrounded by dead Japanese; he was evacuated.

After eight days of favourable weather it changed for the worse on 4 March. Overcast skies and showers forced air strikes to be cancelled while artillery and mortar observers struggled to spot targets. It left the Marines to edge forward slowly with the tanks and engineers.

3rd Division’s Advance to Motoyama and Airfield 3 (D+8 and D+14)

On 27 February RCT 9 cleared the high ground northeast of Airfield 2 and while 2nd Battalion inched up the slopes of Hill 199 Oboe, 1st Battalion reached the summit of Hill Peter. The Japanese had dug into the reverse slope and although Colonel Kenyon’s Marines came under fire as they moved over the crest, both battalions kept advancing. By the end of the day they had cleared the hills. Colonel Kenyon proudly wrote of his men’s achievements:

Features of this action were the skill, determination, and aggressiveness displayed by our own troops; the unprecedented tenacity and defensive resourcefulness displayed by the enemy … the decisive aid rendered infantry troops by tanks; and finally, the excellent coordination of all supporting units with infantry maneuvers.

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A Marine hugs the ground during RCT 21’s drive towards Airfield 2. (NARA-127-GW-111389)

The capture of Hill 199 Oboe was accelerated by one man: Private D. Watson. After his squad was pinned down he rushed the pillbox, firing into the embrasure before hurling a grenade inside; he then gunned down the survivors as they ran out. When his squad was pinned down a second time, he climbed the slope with his assistant and charged into the heart of the Japanese position, standing over the entrenchments, shooting anyone that moved. By the time the rest of his platoon reached Watson, he had killed around 60 Japanese; he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

V Corps designated a new O-3 line on 28 February and 3rd Division’s objective was to clear the centre of Motoyama plateau, including the unfinished Airfield 3. RCT 21 took over the attack and while 1st Battalion was stopped by a strongpoint on Hill 362-A’s eastern slopes, 3rd Battalion advanced 400 metres towards Motoyama village. A gap was opening in the centre of RCT 21 but 2nd Battalion was unable to move through it to outflank the strong point in front of 1st Battalion. Despite the disappointment at not reaching Airfield 3, General Erskine was able to report that 3rd Division was through the centre of the Japanese main line of resistance.

RCT 21 again tried to capture Airfield 3 on 1 March but a gap opened up in the centre of 2nd and 3rd Battalions’ advance. 3/9th Marines was ordered forward and it crossed the west end of the airfield’s runway before outflanking the Japanese position that had been holding up 1/21st Marines all day. A second attempt to advance in the afternoon made no further progress.

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General Erskine and his regimental commanders were always looking for a weak spot in the Japanese defences to exploit. They probed them as far as they dared, using reserves to protect open flanks, and then widened the gaps by launching attacks from the sides of the openings. These daring tactics speeded up the rate of advance but the Marines had to watch out for overlooked bunkers and pillboxes during the mopping up process.

Hill 362B overlooked RCT 21’s line of advance and General Erskine obtained permission to cross the division boundary to attack it on 2 March. But first RCT 9 had to seize Airfield 3 so it could give RCT 21 covering fire on Hill 362B. Unfortunately, RCT 9 failed to the cross the runway and Colonel Kenyon had to be satisfied with holding the southern perimeter of the runway while a platoon of tanks moved up to give covering fire. While 1/21st Battalion advanced around the north side of the runway and 3/9th Battalion seized the high ground at the east end, 2/21st Battalion reinforce the airfield perimeter in case the Japanese decided to counterattack across the runway.

The battle for Airfield 3 continued on 3 March but while RCT 9 could make no progress, RCT 21 had seized Hill 357 by mid morning. The summit gave Major George A. Percy’s Marines an uninterrupted view of the east coast and there appeared to be no organised resistance between them and the sea. Colonel Withers was then ordered to turn southeast to outflank the Japanese positions in front of RCT 9. While 1st Battalion moved forward along the runway’s northern perimeter there was now a gap in the centre of the division. Shortly after midnight 200 Japanese crept across the runway hoping to infiltrate 3rd Division’s lines; they were soon stopped.

4 March was a miserable day for the 3rd Division and the promises of a breakthrough the previous day were soon dashed. RCT 21 struggled to make any progress east of Airfield 3 while RCT 9 failed to get any closer to Hill 362-C. Both men and units were reaching the limits of their endurance and V Amphibious Corps had ordered 5 March to be a day of rest – or rather reorganisation in the morning and resupply in the afternoon – ready for an attack the following morning. While the Marines checked their equipment and distributed supplies, the tanks and bulldozers withdrew for some overdue maintenance.

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A young Marine watches intently for signs of life as he moves towards a Japanese bunker. (NARA-127-GW-112862)

4th Division in the Meat Grinder (D+8 and D+14)

4th Division faced the rugged area around the ruins of Minami village on 27 February. The area was criss-crossed by crevices and ridges but the main geographical features were known as Hill 382 (or Nidan Iwa), the Turkey Knob and the Amphitheatre; collectively they would become known as the Meat Grinder.

The Japanese had dug camouflaged emplacements into the slopes of Hill 382 and hidden tanks and artillery pieces in its crevices and ravines, linking many positions with a network of tunnels. They had also fortified the hollowed-out summit with artillery pieces and anti-tank guns. The huge rocky outcrop known as the Turkey Knob had a concrete communication post on the summit and Japanese observers had an uninterrupted view across the Meat Grinder. The Marines had to cross open ground to reach the only access to the summit and it was overlooked by a ridge – the Amphitheatre. The Japanese had built three tiers of concrete emplacements on the south-sloping hillside and they would have a grandstand view of the Marines’ every move. An intelligence report summarises the hell General Cates’ Marines faced:

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Marines of RCT 9 watch as P-51 Mustangs fly low to drop their 1000lb bombs on Japanese fortifications. (NARA-127-GW-178526)

The volcanic, crevice-lined area is a tangled conglomeration of torn trees and blasted rocks. Ground observation is restricted to small areas. While there are sundry ridges, depressions and irregularities, most of the crevices of any moment radiate from the direction of Hill 382 to fan out like spokes generally in a south easterly direction providing a series of cross corridors to our advance and eminently suitable for the enemy’s employment of mortars. The general debris caused by our supporting fire provides perfect concealment for snipers and mortar positions. From the air, caves and tracks are observed everywhere, but the enemy’s camouflage discipline is flawless and it is the rarest occasion that an Aerial Observer can locate troops.

On 27 February RCT 23 faced Hill 382 on 4th Division’s left flank but its 3rd Battalion had to capture a ruined radar station before it could begin its ascent. The Marines struggled to advance until tanks reached the front line in the afternoon but even then artillery and mortar fire stopped them from taking the summit. RCT 23 made good progress on 28 February and while 1st Battalion moved across the hill’s northern slopes, 2nd Battalion advanced along a ravine to the south. By the end of the day Colonel Wensinger was pleased to report that his Marines had nearly surrounded the hill.

On 27 February RCT 25 faced the Turkey Knob in 4th Division’s centre and Colonel Lanigan planned to surround the rocky outcrop and then look for ways to reach the hilltop bunker. 3rd Battalion advanced 200 metres on the right but 2nd Battalion hardly made any progress up the slopes of the Amphitheatre in the centre. 1st Battalion’s advance on the left was delayed until the afternoon but it did not go far after hidden anti-tank guns knocked out three tanks.

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The rocket trucks of the 1st Provisional Rocket Detachment were able to deliver a devastating barrage of 4.5-inch rockets against a Japanese strongpoint. However, they were easy to spot and vulnerable to counterbattery fire. Each section of six trucks became adapt at driving into position, firing two salvoes, and withdrawing to safety before the Japanese artillery could retaliate. It took less than five minutes to fire a total of 432 rockets.

RCT 25 repeated its attempt to surround the Turkey Knob on 28 February, only this time 1st Battalion tried to advance around both sides of the outcrop. The left hook was stopped by a camouflaged nest of bunkers and while reinforcements moved up, the right hook attacked; it too was stopped in its tracks. Neither 2nd nor 3rd Battalion could help out and mortars had to smother the Turkey Knob with smoke while 1st Battalion withdrew to safety.

In the early hours of 1 March a shell hit 4th Division’s ammunition dump, filling the night sky with explosions. It took five hours to douse the fires, by which time 20 per cent of the division’s supply of ammunition was lost. Another shell had also disabled V Corps artillery fire direction centre.

RCT 24 relieved RCT 23 on 1 March and while Colonel Jordan had orders to clear Hill 382, his attack was delayed for three hours waiting for artillery support. Although all three battalions advanced, they were stopped by heavy fire on the reverse slopes and the summit remained in Japanese hands.

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As the battle grew to a climax and the surviving Japanese troops were pushed into a corner, the fighting became more desperate. Marines hug the rocks as a demolition charge explodes in a mass of flames and smoke. (NARA-127-GW-114292)

Tanks and rocket launchers plastered Hill 382 until they had to withdraw and then the Marines moved in. Major Frank E. Garretson, 2nd Battalion’s executive officer, later explained the means that had to be used to clear the hill. ‘Artillery and naval gunfire was paving the way out in front, but the resistance close in had to be dealt with as usual by the attacking companies employing hand grenades, rifles, and automatic rifles, 60mm mortars, flamethrowers, demolitions, and bazookas.’ On the afternoon of 2 March Colonel Jordan finally reported that Hill 382 had been taken.

The poor weather on 4 March affected General Cates’ plans the same as the rest. While airstrikes had to be cancelled, artillery observers found it difficult to find targets. The Marines would have noticed that the amount of Japanese artillery fire had fallen since the fall of Hill 382 and its accuracy had noticeably worsened. Instead Japanese soldiers were hiding in camouflaged positions until the Marines were so close that they could not use their support weapons. Attempts to advance down the reverse slopes towards Higashi over the next 48 hours came to nothing; RCT 24 was exhausted.

RCT 25 renewed the pincer attack on the Turkey Knob on 1 March but yet again 1st Battalion’s hooks were unable to surround the outcrop and mortars created a smoke screen so the Marines could gather up their casualties and withdraw to safety. Colonel Lanigan chose to make a surprise attack on 2 March and 1st Battalion moved out before dawn, creeping forward round the north side of the Turkey Knob for 20 minutes before they were spotted. Then all hell was let loose and the Marines had to fight for their lives until eight tanks could reach them. They fired hundreds of 75mm shells and squirted over 1000 gallons of flamethrower fuel at the blockhouse but the garrison refused to abandon their hilltop position. As night fell Colonel Lanigan had to yet again recall his men to safer positions.

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It took several days to clear all the bunkers and caves on Hill 382; 4th Division’s operations officerdescribed RCT 24’s mopping up operation: ‘It appears that there are underground passageways leading into the defences on Hill 382 and when an occupant of a pillbox is killed another one comes up to take his place. This is a rather lengthy process.’.

Two battalions tried to sneak past the Turkey Knob early on 3 March and while 2/24th Battalion closed in from the northeast, 1/23rd Battalion crept past the Amphitheatre until it was spotted. The Marines had to wait behind cover until engineers cleared a route forward for a flame tank, and as it smothered the blockhouse in burning liquid, 1/23rd Battalion continued their advance. The story was the same on 4 March: heavy casualties and a small advance because RCT 23 was also exhausted. Late in the afternoon General Schmidt issued orders instructing all divisions to dig in for the night; after 14 days of constant battling, the Marines needed a well-deserved rest.

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Soft sand and rough terrain limited where tanks could operate. The leading tank has become bogged down in a huge crater; the second has lost a track. (NARA-127-GW-111039)

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On 4 March the first B-29 Superfortress, Dinah Might, landed on Iwo Jima so it could carry out emergency repairs as it returned from a raid over Tokyo. The sight of the huge plane taking off and heading for its home base gave the Marines a morale boost. (NARA-127-GW-112392)

By this stage of the battle many companies were at half strength or less and battalion commanders had to transfer men between companies to keep them in action while the headquarters and support weapons companies were ordered to send men forward to the rifle companies. Companies, platoons and squads had lost too many leaders, and it took time to integrate the replacements with the veterans. 26th Marines, for example, had its original strength of 3256 reduced to 2153 effectives; 464 were newcomers. Colonel Graham could only rate his regiment’s combat efficiency at less than 50 per cent and it was the same situation across all three divisions.

The day of rest allowed time for new plans to be made. Two weeks of sustained bombardment had altered Iwo Jima’s terrain beyond all recognition, rendering many operational maps worthless. A public relations photographer was ordered to carry out an improvised aerial photography mission to try and restore the situation. He took many photographs of the island and after they had been developed and enlarged they were distributed to the divisions. Intelligence officers in turn studied them to gain a better understanding of the terrain.

5th Division’s Advance to Kitano Ravine (D+15 to D+19)

5th Division wanted to clear Hill 362-B on its right flank on 6 March but 2/27th Marines was hit by a counter barrage at zero hour and never recovered. 1/26th and 3/26th Marines extended the attack across 5th Division’s sector in the afternoon but to no avail. 5th Division had to ask for help from carrier planes: ‘Request close support planes be armed maximum amount napalm for duration operation. Urgent need in ravines along northeast coast…’ It appeared that the Japanese only feared fire.

By 7 March, ammunition expenditure was outstripping supply and everyone agreed that artillery barrages were having little effect on the Japanese troops. Corps and division artillery were ordered to reduce the number of firing missions while V Amphibious Corps insisted on something different: pre-dawn surprise attacks. Recent experience in 4th Division’s zone had shown that progress could be made by creeping across the rugged terrain in complete silence. The plan was for them to be deep into the Japanese lines before they were spotted. Then the Marines faced a fight for survival until the tanks could get forward.

RCT 26 advanced 200 metres beyond Kita before dawn on 7 March, bypassing several strongpoints before they were spotted. Colonel Graham’s Marines then had to fight for their lives to hold the ground they had taken. Meanwhile, RCT 28 continued to inch forward along the rocky, gorge-cut north coast. On the right flank 2/27th Marines were pinned down in a steep-sided gully beyond Hill 362-B and as tanks could not reach them, the Marines manhandled a 37mm gun forward; it was unable to make a difference and they had to withdraw.

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The drive for the east coast, D+15 and D+19 (6–10 March.)

On 8 March General Rockey received V Amphibious Corps’s new order, an order issued to all three divisions: ‘capture the remainder of the island.’ As RCT 28 advanced another 400 metres along the north coast, ships fired into the caves and ravines ahead of the Marines. It was a different story for RCT 26; they were unable to make progress through the maze of pillboxes and caves around Kita. 2/27th Battalion was also struggling to advance until Lieutenant Jack Lummus, a popular officer who played for the New York Giants football team before the war, was mortally wounded. Lummus had single-handedly made the hard yards, knocking out the two strongpoints stopping his platoon and encouraging his men to advance while directing tanks forward. After knocking out a third emplacement Lummus was fatally wounded by a land mine and it was all too much for Company E. Lummus’s men rushed forward in a surge of fury, making the 300-yard dash to the cliff top overlooking the sea. Lummus had been a constant inspiration to his men since D-Day and his death was just too much; he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

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5th Division had to clear out dozens of caves along the rugged northern coastline. Flamethrowers were used to kill or injure anyone inside and then the engineers moved in with their explosives. (NARA-111-SC-208586)

On 5th Division’s left flank, RCT 28 also continued its coastal advance until it came to the edge of a deep gorge known as Kitano Ravine. Colonel Liversedge was advised not to send his Marines down to investigate until it had been surrounded because it was believed that General Kuribayashi and 109th Division headquarters were in the maze of caves below. They had possibly been joined by part of 2nd Battalion, 145th Regiment and 3rd Battalion, 17th Independent Mixed Regiment. A large number of stragglers had also made their way into the narrow gorge.

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During the night of on 8 March, Private First Class James D. La Belle of 27th Marines’ Weapons Company was on watch in his foxhole when a grenade landed close by. With no time to pick it up, he shouted a warning to his two buddies and dived on the missile; he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

RCT 26 and RCT 27 Marines continued to edge forward on 9 March, pushing the Japanese defenders towards Kitano Point but many chose to fight to the death or commit suicide because they had nowhere to hide. When 1/27th Battalion came under enfilade fire, Sergeant Joseph R. Julian ordered his machine guns to return fire while he rushed the pillbox and knocked it out with a satchel charge and white phosphorus grenades; he then grabbed a discarded rifle and killed the escaping soldiers. Julian went on to silence two more cave positions with another Marine and was mortally wounded while trying to knock out another pillbox with a bazooka; he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Between 25 February and 10 March, 5th Division had advanced 3000 metres along the north coast of Iwo Jima and it had suffered 4292 casualties; around a third were killed or mortally wounded and the rest were wounded or evacuated with combat fatigue. To compensate for the losses, General Rockey ordered Colonel Waller to release 10 per cent of the men from 13th Marine Artillery Regiment to reinforce the infantry regiments; they were at the limit of their endurance.

3rd Division’s Advance to the East Coast (D+15 to D+19)

General Erskine’s Marines were advancing across Nature’s own hell east of Airfield 3, enduring the heat and stench caused by sulphur bubbling up through fissures and crevices in the rocky ground. Although tanks were ideal for suppressing the Japanese positions, there were only a few natural trails through the rocks and they were littered with mines and covered by anti-tank guns. The Marines pushed on alone while the engineers and bulldozers cleared routes forward.

2/21st Battalion advanced early on 6 March and reached the summit of Hill 357 during the afternoon, giving Major Percy’s Marines a commanding view of the east coast. RCT 9 attacked an hour later but it could not clear Hill 362-A. 3/9th Battalion made a surprise attack on Hill 362-A the following morning and advanced through a smoke screen for 30 minutes before a burst of machine-gun fire alerted every Japanese soldier in the area. As the sky began to lighten, Lieutenant Colonel Boehm noticed that his leading company had only reached Hill 331; Hill 362-A was another 250 metres to the southeast. He had been sent in the right direction but towards the wrong objective.

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Tanks struggled to find suitable routes across the rough landscape but were always very welcome when they could find a way through. This squad are escorting a tank dozer as it carves a route to the front line. (NARA-127-GW-114025)

All Boehm could do was to organise a new attack, only this time the Japanese were waiting and his Marines came under fire from all sides. Although progress was slow and casualties were high, 3/9th Battalion captured Hill 362-C before nightfall. Lieutenant Colonel Boehm summed up the attack as follows:

Most notable in the night attack was the fact that, although nearly all the basic dope was bad, the strategy proved very sound, since it turned out that the open ground taken under cover of darkness was the most heavily fortified of all terrain captured that day, and the enemy occupying this vital ground were taken completely by surprise (actually sleeping in their pillboxes and caves) … It should be kept in mind, however, that a stroke of luck went a long way toward making the attack a success.

RCT 9 renewed its attack at first light on 7 March but it had only advanced 200 metres when the Marines came under fire from all directions and became cut off. In 1st Battalion’s sector, Second Lieutenant John H. Leims laid telephone lines across 400 metres of fire-swept ground before leading his men back to safety. He later returned twice in the dark to rescue wounded men. Leims was awarded the Medal of Honor. 2nd Battalion was also surrounded and although tanks managed to rescue Company E, Company F remained cut off until the following morning.

3rd Division spent 8 March clearing the east coast and while RCT 21 cleared the cliff tops, a destroyer fired directly into the ravines below. In RCT 9’s sector Japanese soldiers were gathering to make a last stand east of Motoyama village, in an area known as Cushman’s Pocket after 2/9th Battalion’s commanding officer.

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These two Marines have just helped clear the pillbox in the background and they are waiting to move out towards their next objective. (NARA-127-GW-113803)

Neither 3/21st not 2/9th Battalions could make any progress down the ravines on 9 March but patrols from both 1/21 and 3/9th Battalions reached the shoreline. 1/21st Battalion’s patrol was the first to the beach and the intelligence officer sent a canteen filled with sea water to the corps commander with a note; ‘For inspection, not consumption.’ It was just what General Schmidt wanted to hear. Japanese resistance had been light but General Erskine still ordered his battalions to dig in along the cliffs for the night; the general advance to the eastern shoreline could wait until morning.

The following morning 1st Battalion reached the beach in RCT 21’s sector, however, 3rd Battalion ran into difficulties when a disabled Sherman tank came to life. An enterprising Japanese soldier had climbed inside and worked out how to operate its turret and gun. After knocking out one tank he held up 3rd Battalion until a bazooka team crawled forward to silence him.

In RCT 9’s sector, both 3rd and 1st Battalions advanced down the ravines and then linked up on the beach. Although General Erskine was able to report that 3rd Division’s zone was free of organised resistance, it would take another six days to clear the remaining pockets of resistance along the cliffs. The delay was in part due to the large number of replacements that the division had absorbed. There was no time for small unit training and their inexperience led to many needless casualties.

4th Division Takes Minami and Higashi (D+15 to D+19)

General Cates’ high hopes for a fresh attack on 6 March were quickly dashed as noted in the division’s operations report: ‘The results of fatigue and lack of experienced leaders is very evident in the manner in which the units fight.’ RCT 23 hardly moved while RCT 24 had done little to increase its stranglehold on the Turkey Knob.

Cates changed his plans for 7 March; he would use a hammer and anvil strategy to crack the Meat Grinder while RCT 23 pushed for the coast. RCT 24 would hammer the Turkey Knob from northeast while the rest of RCT 25 hammered it from the southeast. 3/25th Marines formed the anvil west of the Amphitheatre, laying mines and erecting booby trapped barbed wire fences to stop the Japanese escaping. Machine guns and three 37mm guns armed with canister shells were dug in and camouflaged; mortars were also registered to hit the area in front of Captain Headley’s Marines.

Disaster struck in front of Higashi when a rocket exploded in 2/23rd Marines’ command post before dawn; Major Davison and his executive officer, operations officer, adjutant and communications chief were all casualties. Lieutenant Colonel Dillon took over but 2nd Battalion could only advance 150 metres. RCT 24 struggled to make progress towards Higashi. RCT 25 also failed to advance southeast of the Meat Grinder. By the end of the day it was clear to General Cates that both his flanks had to hammer harder if they were going to drive the Japanese onto his anvil.

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The Japanese feared the flamethrower and their snipers kept a lookout for the distinctive shape of the fuel pack and nozzle. (NARA-127-GW-111006)

4th Division made a surprise pre-dawn attack on 8 March but the Marines only moved a short distance before the Japanese were alerted and a day of bitter fighting followed. Although Cates did not know it, Captain Inoue, the Iwo Naval Land Force Commander, was killed in the fighting around Higashi.

Since 1 March the division intelligence officer had warned that the risk of counterattacks would rise as the Japanese were pushed back to the coast: ‘POW interrogation reveals general counterattacks are discouraged by Jap commanders as long as gun and mortar positions are intact. After permanent positions have been overrun by Blue troops, counterattacks are to be made at the discretion of unit commanders.’ He was about to be proved right.

An unusual amount of mortar, rocket and artillery fire hit 4th Division’s lines during the night of 8/9 March; it was being used to mask the sounds of 310th Independent Infantry Battalion’s 1st Company creeping through RCT 23’s lines. The troops were well equipped and while many carried demolition charges, some carried stretchers and planned to shout ‘Corpsman’ when they were spotted to fool the Marines. Shortly before midnight, shouts and screams signalled the alarm as 2/23rd Marines came under attack and Lieutenant Colonel Dillon’s men were fighting for their lives.

The support ships lit the night sky with star shells while Company E fought to hold its position. A jeep with a trailer loaded with grenades and mortar shells saved the day when ammunition began to run out. Dillon’s Marines survived the night and at sunrise the Japanese withdrew. Mopping up continued until noon and around 800 Japanese dead were counted in 4th Division’s line, the majority around Company E; many more were later found in No Man’s Land.

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After the Japanese counterattack on the night of 8 March, RCT 23 moves out with fixed bayonets to check the area north of Higashi. (NARA-127-GW-142979)

Japanese resistance reduced after the counterattack and 4th Division was about to take its revenge. While 2/23rd Marines could not advance far on the left flank, 3/24th Marines overcame the strongpoint covering Higashi village and advanced 300 metres towards Tachiiwa Point. The breakthrough released 1/24th and 1/25th Marines and they swung round to increase the stranglehold on the Turkey Knob.

10 March marked the last coordinated corps and divisional artillery barrage on Iwo Jima because Japanese-held areas had become too small to target with anything larger than mortars. On 4th Division’s right flank, 2/23rd and 3/24th Marines advanced quickly past Higashi, leaving enemy strongpoints for infantry-engineer-tank teams to clear out with flamethrowers and demolitions. By mid afternoon, patrols were at the coast either side of Tachiiwa Point, having advanced over 1000 metres. Colonel Wensiger’s objective had been taken earlier than expected and the rapid advance was attributed to the number of Japanese killed during the previous night’s counterattack.

Meanwhile, RCT 25 continued to close in on the Turkey Knob and this time 3rd and 2nd Battalions made contact on the far side around noon and had secured the hilltop bunker by nightfall. 1st Battalion also destroyed the final pocket of resistance in the area. After two weeks of bitter fighting, General Cates was pleased to report that the Meat Grinder had finally been taken. Although organised resistance was over in 4th Division’s sector, it would take another six days before the area was secure.

4th Division suffered 4075 casualties between 25 February and 10 March in the Meat Grinder: nearly 850 killed or mortally wounded and over 3000 wounded or evacuated with combat fatigue. It left battalions short of men and companies were frequently exchanged to support assaults. In RCT 24, 1st and 2nd Battalions had to disband one company each because they had fewer than 150 men. 4th Division was also getting close to breaking point.

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Lieutenant Colonel Melvin L. Krulewitch gathered over 400 officers and men under his command and they set to work checking out the caves and bunkers behind 4th Division’s front. It would take three days to mop up the rear areas and Krulewitch’s temporary unit then disbanded, its work done.

With the end of organised Japanese resistance in sight, important command changes took place to accommodate the expansion of the airfield and base facilities on Iwo Jima. Brigadier General Ernest C. Moore of VII Fighter Command became the island’s Air Commander on 6 March. He also assumed command of 15th Fighter Group with 47th Fighter Squadron’s 28 P-51s (Mustangs) and 548th Night Fighter Squadron’s 12 P-61s (Black Widows). Major General James E. Chaney assumed his dual role as Commanding General, Army Garrison Forces, and Island Commander, Iwo Jima, the following day, taking responsibility for three things. Firstly, he would oversee control of the airfields; secondly, he would coordinate the island’s air defences; thirdly, he would direct the development of Iwo Jima’s base facilities.

Marine Casualties, 25 February–10 March



Died of wounds





5th Division







3rd Division







4th Division







There were also several changes off shore. When the island-based 15th Fighter Group took over combat air patrol duties on 8 March the carrier planes were stood down and USS Enterprise’s carrier fleet headed for Ulithi. On 9 March the Eldorado left for Guam with Admiral Turner and his staff on board, while General Smith’s command post transferred to the Auburn. The Joint Expeditionary Force, Amphibious Support Force, Attack Force, Gunfire and Covering Force and Expeditionary Troops were reorganised as Task Group 51.21 under Admiral Hill, the Senior Officer Present Afloat.

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