From King to Joker

How administration policies moved America from greatness to mediocrity

The Kiss VJ DayThe United States was a very troubled land following World War II … only most people didn’t realize it.   The American people had grown tired of the tragedies of war and all of its inconveniences on the home front.  Over a million Americans became casualties during the war: 292,000 killed in action, 113,842 non-combat related deaths, 670,846 wounded in action, and 30,314 missing in action.  Folks back home wanted their survivors back, their husbands, sons, daughters, and sweethearts, so that they could return to a normal life.  What they did not know, and could not know, was that there would never again be “a normal life” following World War II.

Part of this, of course, was the war itself.  People who come through war —any war— are never quite the same as before they experienced it.  Part of it, too, was that American society was moving away from a few of its traditional defects; change is never easy.  There were civil rights issues, voting rights issues, human dignity issues … problems that were created and nurtured by the Democratic Party over the previous 80 years.  Americans did address these issues, fought back against the innate racism of the Democratic Party and in time, for the most part, many of these problems were solved —to a point.

With the war drawing to a close in May 1945, Democrat President Harry S. Truman ordered a general demobilization of the armed forces after the defeat of Nazi Germany, even while the war continued in the Pacific.  In May, before Japan’s surrender, the United States had more than twelve million men and women serving in uniform; nearly eight million of these were serving outside the United States.  Truman’s plan for general demobilization was code-named Operation Magic Carpet, supervised by the War Shipping Administration.  It was a massive undertaking that demanded hundreds of liberty ships, victory ships, and nearly 400 ships of the US Navy to bring the troops back home.

Post-war demobilization of the armed forces was always anticipated, of course.  But, as we shall see, the Truman administration took the concept of a peace-time America a few extraordinary steps beyond demobilization and why this is important is because none of Truman’s decisions were beneficial to the long-term interests of the United States, or its long-suffering population.  In fact, the incompetence of the Truman administration was so pervasive that it is nearly impossible to believe it.  Make no mistake, however, Truman and his associates guaranteed to the American people great suffering and angst.

At the conclusion of World War II, after the unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan, occupation forces were needed throughout Asia to disarm and help repatriate remnants of the Japanese military.  The steps that would be necessary for the immediate post-war period were negotiated and agreed to by the aligned nations long before the end of the war.  Each allied nation accepted responsibility for disarmament and political stabilization in Europe and on the Asian mainland.  Korea, however, presented a unique set of problems —and unknown to most Americans at the time, it was a harbinger of the Cold War.

Before World War II, Korea was a unified nation, albeit one controlled by the Empire of Japan.  In negotiating the fate of post-war Korea, the allied powers (principally the United States and the Soviet Union) failed to consult anyone of Korean descent.  The Soviet Union did not want the United States in control of an area abutting its Pacific border and the United States was not inclined to relinquish the Korean Peninsula to the Soviet Union.

Korea Map 001While the Soviet Union (then one of the allied powers) (an ally of the United States in name only) agreed to liberate the northern area of the Korean Peninsula and accept the surrender of Japanese forces there, the United States assumed responsibility for the southern region.  Korea was thus divided into two separate occupation zones at the 38th parallel.  Ostensibly, the ultimate objective was for the Soviet Union and the United States to help stabilize the Korean Peninsula, and then let the Korean people sort their politics out for themselves.  The problem was that every effort to create a middle ground whereby unification might occur peacefully was thwarted by both the US and USSR.

Thus, two new sovereign states were created out of post-war geopolitical tensions.  In the north, the Soviet Union created a communist state under the leadership of Kim-Il-sung and in the south, the United States created a capitalist state eventually led by Syngman Rhee).  Both Kim-Il-sung and Syngman Rhee claimed political legitimacy over the entire peninsula, neither man ever accepted the 38th parallel as a permanent border, and neither of these men (or their sponsors) would yield to the other.

In South Korea, Truman directed the establishment of the United States Army Military Government in Korea (acronym: USAMGIK), the official ruling body of South Korea from 8 September 1945 until 15 August 1948.  At the head of USAMGIK was Lieutenant General John R. Hodge[1], U. S. Army, while concurrently commanding the United States’ XXIV Corps.  As an organization, USAMGIK was completely out of its depth in addressing the challenges of administering South Korea.  The problems were several and serious:

  • USAMGIK had no one on staff who could speak the Korean language, no one with an understanding of, or appreciation for Korean culture, its history, or its politics. Consequently, many of the policies it enacted had a destabilizing effect throughout South Korea.  To make things worse, waves of refugees from North Korea swamped USAMGIK and caused turmoil throughout Korean society.
  • The consequences of Japanese occupation remained throughout the occupation zone; popular discontent stemmed from the military government’s support of continued Japanese colonial government. Once the colonial apparatus was dismantled, the military government continued to retain Japanese officials as their advisors.
  • On the advice of these Japanese advisors, the military government ignored, censored, or forcibly disbanded the functional (and popular) People’s Republic of Korea. This action discharged the popular leader, Yeo Un-hyeong, who subsequently established the Working People’s Party, and it further complicated matters by refusing to recognize the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (in exile), led by Kim Ku, who was insulted when he was required to re-enter his own country as a private citizen.

In the beginning, the USAMGIK was tolerant of leftist politics, including the Korean Communist Party —apparently attempting to seek a balance between hard-left and hard-right political groups.  Such liberality created an adverse relationship with the powerful South Korean leader Syngman Rhee.  In any case, the effort to reconcile political differences in South Korea didn’t last and the ban on popular political expressions sent dissenting groups underground.  Following South Korea’s constitutional assembly and presidential elections in May and July 1948, the Republic of South Korea was officially announced on 15 August 1948.  US military occupation forces were withdrawn in 1949.

In 1948, a large-scale North Korean-backed insurgency erupted in South Korea[2].  The unrecognized border between the two countries was part of the problem, but Kim-Il-sung was an experienced guerilla fighter; one who helped lead Korea’s resistance to Japanese colonialism.  Kim Il-sung, more than most, knew how to agitate the masses.  The communist insurgency resulted in thousands of deaths on both sides.  Post-1945, the armed forces of the Republic of Korea (ROK) were almost exclusively armed and trained to address the Communist insurgency.  They were not trained or equipped to deal with conventional war.  Advising the ROK military was a force of about 100 US Army advisors.

Acheson 001
Dean Acheson

The communist insurgency did have the attention of senior military leaders in the United States, but they were preoccupied with the Truman administration’s gutting of the US Armed Forces.  In January 1949, recently elected President Truman appointed Dean Acheson as the 51st Secretary of State.  Acheson had been ensconced at the State Department since 1941 as an under-Secretary.  In 1947, Truman awarded Acheson the Medal of Merit for his work in implementing the Marshal Plan, which was part of Truman’s overall Communist containment policy.  In the summer of 1949, after Mao Zedong’s victory against the Chinese Nationalists (and before the presidential elections), the American people (mostly Republican politicians) demanded to know how it was possible, after spending billions of dollars in aid to the Nationalist Chinese, that the United States lost China to the Communist dictator, Mao-Zedong.

To answer this question, Secretary Acheson directed area experts to produce a study of recent Sino-American relations.  Known conventionally as the China White Paper, Acheson used it to dismiss claims that Truman’s incompetence provided aid and comfort to the Maoists during the Chinese Civil War.  The paper argued that any attempt by the United States to interfere in the civil war would have been doomed to failure.  This, of course, was probably true[3].  It did not, however, serve American interests for the Truman administration to bury its collective head in the sand and pretend that all was well in the world.  It was not.

On 12 January 1950, Acheson addressed the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. During his discussions about the all-important US Defense Perimeter, Acheson failed to include the Korean Peninsula or Formosa within the United States’ protective umbrella.  Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and North Korean leader Kim-Il-Sung interpreted what Acheson had not said as a green light for military aggression on the Korean Peninsula.

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Louis A. Johnson

In March 1949, President Truman nominated Louis A. Johnson to serve as the second Secretary of Defense.  Johnson shared Truman’s commitment to drastically reduce US expenditures on national defense in favor of socialist programs.  Truman viewed defense spending as an interference with his domestic agenda and without regard to the nation’s ability to respond to foreign emergencies.  Truman made the erroneous assumption that America’s monopoly on nuclear weapons would be a sufficient deterrence against Communist aggression.  Secretary Johnson’s unwillingness to budget for conventional forces-in-readiness caused considerable dissension among the nation’s military leaders.

To ensure congressional approval of Johnson’s proposed DoD budget request, both President Truman and Johnson demanded public acceptance, if not outright support, from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other leaders of military departments when making public statements or testifying before Congress.  The intimidation worked, apparently, because General Omar Bradley changed his tune once he was nominated to become Chairman of the JCS.  In 1948 he moaned, “The Army of 1948 could not fight its way out of a paper bag.”  In the next year, both he and General Collins testified before Congress that Truman cuts made the services more effective.

In a meeting with the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Richard L. Conolly, Johnson said, “Admiral, the Navy is on its way out.  There is no reason for having a Navy and Marine Corps.  General Bradley tells me amphibious operations are a thing of the past.  We’ll never have any more amphibious operations.  That does away with the Marine Corps.  And the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do, so that does away with the Navy.”

Truman had no love for the US Marine Corps; he did not think the nation needed a Corps of Marines when it had an army capable of doing the same things.  He never accepted the fact that the Marine Corps, as a combat force, provided unique strategic and tactical strengths to the Naval establishment and he, in fact, undertook efforts to disband the Marine Corps prior to the National Security Act of 1947, which protected the Marine Corps from disbandment.  What the law did not allow Truman to do, he attempted to accomplish through insufficient funding —but this was something the Marine Corps shared with all other services.  As a result of Truman’s Department of Defense (DoD) budget cuts, the United States had no combat-effective units in 1950.

On 31 December 1945, the Eighth US Army assumed occupation duties in Japan, replacing the Sixth US Army.  Between then and June 1950, the Eighth Army was reduced in both manpower and material.  Most of the enlisted men were basically trained soldiers with no combat experience.  Among the enlisted men, life in Japan was good.  Owing to the fact that there was no money for adequate resupply, training ammunition, fuel, or replacement parts for vehicles, radios, or aircraft, there was plenty of time for imbibing, chasing kimonos, gambling, and black marketeering.  Equally inexperienced junior officers, mostly from wealthy families padding their resumes for post-military service, stayed out of the way and allowed the senior NCOs to run the show.  Mid-grade officers were experienced enough to know that the senior officers didn’t want to hear about problems involving troop efficiency, unit morale, or disciplinary problems.  The more astute majors and colonels learned how to lose games of golf to their seniors, and the generals enchanted their wives by throwing wonderfully attended soirees for visiting dignitaries.

In the early morning of 25 June 1950, the North Korean People’s Army invaded the Republic of South Korea.  It was a lightning strike.  The only US military presence in the ROK was the US Military Advisory Group (KMAG) under Brigadier General William L. Roberts, U. S. Army, commanding 100 military advisors.  Wisely, officers not killed or taken as prisoners of war made a rapid withdrawal southward toward Pusan.

Acting on Dean Acheson’s advice, President Truman ordered General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) to reinforce the South Korean military, transfer materiel to the South Korean military, and provide air cover for the evacuation of US nationals.  Truman also ordered the 7th US Fleet to protect the Republic of China (ROC) (Taiwan).

On 3 July, Lieutenant General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, conferred with General Douglas MacArthur in Tokyo, Japan.  At the end of this meeting, MacArthur dispatched this message to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Request immediate assignment marine regimental combat team and supporting air group for duty this command.  Macarthur.”

Before the JCS made their decision on General MacArthur’s request, MacArthur had to send five additional dispatches.  The Korean War was a week old and still, the Marine Corps awaited orders.  But while waiting for Truman to decide whether or not there was a role for the Marine Corps, the Marines had begun the process of creating a regimental combat team.  On 3 July 1950, however, the 1st Marine Division, closest to the action on the Korean Peninsula, was a paper division.  There was only one infantry regiment (as opposed to three): the 5th Marines.  Commanding the regiment was Lieutenant Colonel Raymond L. Murry (Colonel Select).  Rather than three infantry battalions, Murry had only two.  Each battalion had two rifle companies (rather than three).  Each company had two rifle platoons, instead of three.  Given the status of Murry’s regiment, it would require a herculean task to put together a regimental combat team.

Smith C B 001
Charles B. Smith

In Korea, the Battle of Osan was the first significant engagement of US forces in the Korean War.  Tasked to reinforce the South Korean Army, Major General William F. Dean, commanding the 24th US Infantry Division in Japan, assigned the 21st Infantry Regiment as his lead element.  Its first battalion (1/21) was the regiment’s only “combat-ready” battalion, commanded by the experienced Lieutenant Colonel Charles B. Smith, who had earlier participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal.  Designated Task Force Smith, 1/21 moved quickly to block advancing NKPA forces.  Smith’s orders were to hold off the NKPA until the rest of the division could be moved to Korea by sea —Major General Dean thought it would take three days.

Smith had a little over 500 men under his command, barely 3 rifle companies and a battery of field artillery.  Most of these men were teenagers with no combat experience and only eight weeks of basic training.  Each of Smith’s rifleman was limited to 120 rounds of ammunition and two days of field rations.  Task Force Smith arrived in Korea on 1 July 1950.  The unit moved by rail and truck northward toward Suwon, about 25 miles south of Seoul.

At the Battle of Osan on 5 July 1950, Task Force Smith was only able to delay the advancing KPA for seven hours.  American casualties were 60 killed, 21 wounded, 82 captured, and six artillery pieces destroyed.  Smith did the best he could with what he had at his disposal —which was little more than young boys carrying rifles.  His soldiers ran out of ammunition.  None of his field radios were in working order.  The size of his task force was insufficient for the mission assigned to him.  When faced with retreat or capture, Smith ordered the withdrawal of his companies in leap-frog fashion.  The men of the 2nd platoon, Company B never received Smith’s order to withdraw.  When the platoon commander finally discovered that he was completely alone, it was already too late to withdraw his men in an orderly manner.  The wounded were left behind[4], along with much of the platoon’s equipment (including automatic weapons).  According to the later testimony of a North Korean army officer, the Americans were too frightened to fight.

Smith’s withdrawal soon devolved into confused flight.  In total, Task Force Smith imposed around 20 enemies KIA with 130 wounded.  Task Force Smith revealed the effects of Truman’s national defense policies.  The troops were completely unprepared for combat and their inoperable or barely functioning equipment was insufficient to their mission.  Following the defeat of Task Force Smith, the 24th Infantry Division’s 34th regiment was likewise defeated at Pyontaek.  Over the subsequent 30 days, the NKPA pushed the Eighth Army all the way south to Pusan and the United States Army gave up its most precious resource —the American rifleman— to enemy fires … all because President Truman thought that socialist programs were more important than the combat readiness of its military services.

Equally disastrous for the United States was the long-term implications of the Truman administration’s thinking.  There is no such thing as “limited war,” at least, not among those who must confront a determined enemy.  Police action is something that civilian police agencies do … winning wars is what the US military establishment is supposed to do … but when national policy dictates “holding actions,” or the acceptance of stalemate, then America’s excellent military can do no more than win battles, give up casualties, and accept the stench of strategic losses created by Washington politicians.

But there is an even worse outcome, which is where I think we are today.  It is that in serving under self-absorbed, morally bankrupt, and thoroughly corrupt politicians, career military officers relinquish their warrior ethos.  They learn how to accept casualties as simply being the cost of their career advancement, they learn how to lose graciously, and they learn that by getting along with Washington and corporate insiders, lucrative positions await them after military retirement.

The stench of this is enough to make a good American retch.

These lessons began in Korea.  The mindset took hold during the Vietnam War.  Their effects are easily observed in the more recent efforts of Generals Petraeus and McCrystal, who focused on counterinsurgency strategies (winning hearts and minds) rather than locating a ruthless enemy and destroying him.  Recent history demonstrates that there is little that counterinsurgency did to benefit the long-term interests of the United States in the Middle East.

Our current policy objectives accomplish only this: making America the laughingstock of a dangerous and determined enemy.  Neither have the efforts of American diplomats benefited our national interests, but then, this has been true for well over 150 years.

The American people are not consulted about the direction of their country but they must live with the results of inept government policy.  The American people have but one responsibility, and that is to vote intelligently and responsibly according to their conscience.  Nor is the imposition of this responsibility overpowering.  We only vote once every two years in general elections.

Yet, how the people vote does matter.  Ilhan Omar, Hank Johnson, Erick Swalwell, Ted Lieu all matter.  Who the people choose as their President matters: Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.  Presidents matter because they appoint cabinet officials (Dean Acheson, Robert McNamara Cyrus Vance, Edmund Muskie, Warren Christopher, Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry), federal judges (John Roberts, Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan), and other bureaucrats whose primary allegiance is to themselves rather than to the poor dumb suckers across America who pay their salaries.

Truman laid the foundation for our national malaise, and most presidents between then and now have contributed to our present-day quagmire.  America is in trouble and has been for far too long.  It occurs to me that if the American people are tired of burying their loved ones at Arlington National Cemetery, then they need to do a better job choosing their national leaders.

The United States was once, not long ago, a king on the world’s stage; today, America is a joker —a useful idiot to people who share the world stage but whose diplomats and policy makers are much smarter than anyone on our side of the ocean.

Success has many fathers—Failure is an orphan.

Sources:

  1. Cumings, B. The Origins of the Korean War, Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.
  2. Eckert, C.J. and Ki-Baik Lee (et.al.) Korea: Old and New, a History.  The Korea Institute, Harvard University Press, 1990.
  3. Karnow, S. Vietnam: A History.  Viking Press, 1983
  4. Millett, A. R. The War for Korea, 1945-1950: A House Burning.  Topeka: University of Kansas Press, 2005
  5. Robinson, M. Korea’s Twentieth-Century Odyssey: A short history.  Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007

Endnotes:

[1] John Reed Hodge (1823-1963) attended Southern Illinois Teachers College and the University of Illinois and received his appointment in the U. S. Army through the ROTC program.  He served in World War I and World War II, retiring as a lieutenant general following his assignment as Chief of Army Field Services in 1953.

[2] The exact-same strategies used by Ho Chi Minh in 1946.  The similarities are no coincidence since the USSR backed Ho Chi Minh at the same time they backed Kim Il-sung.  Part of this strategy was to overwhelm South Korea and South Vietnam by streaming thousands of “refugees” into the struggling countries and embedding within these populations hundreds of Communist troublemakers.  The amazing part of this is that no one in the Truman administration was able (or could be bothered) to put any of the pieces together.  In both events (Korea/Vietnam), Americans lost their lives in a losing proposition.  The architect (through malfeasance) of both disasters was the Truman administration.

[3] The United States’ long-time ally in China was Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek, one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s useful idiots and a beneficiary of Roosevelt’s lend-lease arrangement.  Roosevelt also provided Mao Zedong with arms and munitions so that he too could confront Japanese Imperial forces in China.  Chiang was only marginally successful in waging war against invading Japanese, Mao didn’t even try.  He kept Roosevelt’s gifts for use later on against Chiang.  In any case, with American made arms and munitions, Chiang repressed the Chinese people, driving many of them squarely into the Communist camp. The first question to ask might have been whether or not Chiang or Mao deserved any support from the United States, and the second might have addressed the kind of ally Chiang would have made had he won the civil war.  In any case, no one in America was smart enough to deal effectively with unfolding events in Asia.

[4] These wounded soldiers were later found shot to death in their litters.

Operation Detachment – The Battle for Iwo Jima

Note: So much has been written about the Battle of Iwo Jima, by individuals far more qualified than myself, some of whom participated in it, all of whom conducted extensive research on this iconic battle, that I have avoided the effort for years.  But the Battle of Iwo Jima has called out to me to write something in tribute to the men who served there.  What follows is my unworthy summary an event that traumatized its survivors for the balance of their lives.    

Iwo Jima 001American successes in the Pacific campaign forced the Japanese war machine to reevaluate their situation.  By the end of the Marshal Islands campaign, senior Japanese naval and army officers realized the truth of what Admiral Yamamoto had predicted three years earlier.  Japan had awoken a sleeping giant.

It was always Japan’s intention to create an inner perimeter defense of its home islands.  It was a defensive position that extended northward from the Carolines to the Marianas and the Palau Islands and led to the Philippines.  In March 1944, General Hideyoshi Obata, commanding the 31st Japanese Army (21,000 infantry supported by field and naval artillery, anti-aircraft batteries, and 23 tanks) [1], was ordered to garrison the inner defensive area.

The commander of the garrison on Chichi Jima [2] was placed in overall command of Army and Navy units in the Volcano Islands [3].  Once US and allied aircraft began regularly attacking the Japanese home islands, Iwo Jima became an early warning station that radioed reports of incoming bombers, allowing the Japanese to anticipate the attack and organize an anti-aircraft defense.

Defending the Volcano Islands in 1944 was problematic.  The Japanese Navy had already been neutered by American and allied naval forces and was in no position to challenge an assault on the islands.  Additionally, Japanese aircraft losses by 1944 had been so significant that Japanese industries could not replace them.  Third, Japanese aircraft based on the home islands did not have the range needed to help defend the Volcano Islands, and last, there was a substantial shortage of properly trained or experienced pilots (and other aircrew) to fly what war planes the Japanese did have remaining in their arsenal.  Accordingly, the only purpose of Japan’s defense of Iwo Jima was to delay the Americans for a sufficient time to bolster its ground-defense of the home islands.

Allied commanders determined that Iwo Jima was strategically important.  With three existing landing strips, Iwo Jima would provide an alternate landing site for crippled allied bombers returning from missions over the Japanese home islands.  Typically, American intelligence sources were certain that Iwo Jima would fall to allied forces within a week of an amphibious assault.  Military planners began preparations for the assault, assigning it the code name OPERATION DETACHMENT.  At the beginning of operational planning, given what the allied forces had learned from earlier Pacific battles, particularly at Saipan, it is likely that allied planners expected a Japanese defense in depth [4] —but it is unlikely that they anticipated how exhaustively extensive the Japanese defenses would be.

In June 1944, Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi [5] assumed command of the defenses at Iwo Jima.  He knew from the beginning that his force could not withstand a full allied assault, so he dedicated his command to inflicting as many casualties on the landing force as possible, hoping that massive casualties would convince US, Australian, and British forces to reconsider any thought of invading the Japanese home islands.

Kuribayashi designed a defensive plan that employed static and heavy weapons within mutually supporting defensive positions.  With insufficient time to link tunnels from Mount Suribachi to the main force position, he created a semi-independent defense force at Suribachi, but retained his primary defense zone in the northern area of the island.  His system of tunnels allowed him to rapidly reinforce or replace neutralized defensive positions.  His network of bunkers and pillboxes was extensive and so thoroughly supplied with food and water that the Japanese could hold out for three months.  Ammunition stores, however, were inadequate; Kuribayashi’s troops only had 60% of the ammo they would need to confront one combat division.  The tunnel network extended to around eleven miles, interspersed with command bunkers extending 75 feet underground.  There were hundreds of hidden artillery and mortar positions; land mines were laid through likely avenues of approach, and these were interspersed with sniper and concealed machine gun positions.

Based on allied intelligence estimates, Major General Harry Schmidt, USMC, commanding the Fifth Amphibious Corps, who served as commander of the Marine landing forces, requested a ten day heavy bombardment of Iwo Jima.  The commander, Amphibious Assault Group (Task Force 52), Rear Admiral William Blandy, USN, did not believe that such a bombardment would allow him sufficient time to replenish task force ammunition stores before the landing [6].  On this basis, he denied Schmidt’s request.  General Schmidt then requested nine days of pre-landing bombardment.  Blandy refused this request, as well.  It is difficult today to find fault with Blandy’s decision; he was the officer responsible for the safety and viability of his amphibious ready group —but at the time, senior Marine officers were not pleased with the navy’s decision [7].

Each of Blandy’s assault ships were assigned a sector of supporting fire.  Each warship fired for approximately six hours before shutting down the guns for cooling [8].  Poor weather conditions, which began three days before the scheduled landing, led to “uncertain results” of daily bombardments, but on the second day the USS Pensacola was hit six times and the USS Leutze was hit by Japanese shore battery fire [9]; these two incidents revealed that allied bombardments were ineffective.  On D-day minus one, weather conditions again hampered allied bombardment, limiting the navy to 13 hours of pre-assault gun fire.  Overall, navy’s pre-landing bombardment did not accomplish its mission.

The landing force consisted of the Fifth Amphibious Corps, which included 5th Marine Division (5thMarDiv) regiments (13th  (artillery) 26th, 27th, 28th Marines), 4th Marine Division (4thMarDiv) regiments (14th (artillery), 23rd, 24th, 25th Marines), the US 147th Infantry Regiment, and serving in reserve, the 3rd Marine Division (3rdMardDiv) regiments (12th (artillery), 3rd, 9th, 21st Marines).

D-day was 19 February 1945.  The dawn was bright and clear.  The first wave of the landing force went ashore at 08:59.  They found nothing even remotely similar to the intelligence estimates provided by the allied war planners.  The beaches weren’t “excellent.”  There would be no “easy push” inland.  The Marines faced a 15-foot high slope of soft black volcanic ash.  There was no “sure footing,” and the Marines were unable to construct fighting (fox) holes.  The Japanese waited in silence as Marines swarmed ashore.  Senior navy officers observed the absence of enemy activity as a sure sign that the island was lightly defended.  By their shear numbers, Marines began moving toward Iwo Jima beach and inched their way inland.  The Japanese waited patiently until the Marines were bunched up on the beach, until their unloaded heavy equipment clogged up the small landing zones.  Finally, at 10:00 hours, Kuribayashi unleashed his artillery, mortars, machine guns.  The beach soon became mired in blood.  Robert Sherrod, a war correspondent with Time Magazine, described it as “a nightmare in hell.”

Marine amphibious landing vehicles attempted to clear the black ash, but managed only to churn up the fine powdery material and made no progress.  As the Marines struggled, Navy Seabees braved enemy fire to bulldoze roadways off the beach.  In time, the Marines began a forward push, but as one observer noted, there was at least one dead Marine for every shell hole along the landing beach.

At 11:30 hours, a Marine platoon reached the southern tip of Airfield One.  This was one of the original objectives for the first day, but the expectation was nothing if not unrealistic.  The Marine platoon soon encountered a fanatical Japanese charge of around 100 men.  The Marines held their position, but it was at best tenuous.  Colonel Liversedge led his 28th Marines across the island at it narrowest width.  Liversedge didn’t know it at the time, but the movement of his regiment isolated the Japanese who were dug in on Mount Suribachi.

Japanese heavy artillery positioned on Mount Suribachi opened up heavily reinforced steel doors to unleash fire, and then closed them again to defeat allied counter-battery fire.  Marines attacked Japanese positions and neutralized them, but many of these positions were quickly re-manned by Japanese troops being shifted through unseen tunnels.  The Marines soon learned that they could not ignore “cleared” enemy positions.  As a response to heavy enemy resistance on the beach, the US 147th Infantry Regiment was ordered to scale a ridge about three-quarters of a mile from the foot of Mount Suribachi and fire on Japanese positions so that the Marines could advance inland.  The regiment soon found itself inside a hornet’s nest; they would remain engaged there for another 31 days.

The far right side of the landing zone was dominated by Japanese positions at “the Quarry.”  Colonel John Lanigan led his 25th Marines in a two-pronged attack into the Quarry to silence Japanese guns.  At the beginning of the push, the third battalion (3/25) had 900 men.  By the end of the day, the battalion was down to 150 effective Marines.  Second Lieutenant Ben Roselle was serving as a naval gunfire liaison officer, whose mission it was to direct naval artillery.  He was brutally wounded four times within mere minutes, losing his left foot at the ankle, receiving severe wounds in his right leg, a wound to his left shoulder, additional wounds to his thighs, and a shrapnel wound to his left forearm.  Miraculously, the lieutenant survived.

By sunset of the first day, 30,000 Marines had gone ashore.  The Japanese would not make it easy for these Marines—an additional 40,000 Marines would be required to win this fight.  Based on their previous experiences in the island campaigns, the Marines expected banzai attacks during the night, but historians tell us that only one of those occurred on Iwo Jima.  Initially, General Kuribayashi forbade such attacks because he felt they were a waste of effort and human life.  This is not to suggest there were no night-time Japanese counter-attacks.  Fighting on the beach was fiercely unrelenting; the Japanese opposed every Marine thrust into their defensive areas.  Many Marine units were ambushed by Japanese who suddenly appeared from “no where,” from spider holes that were connected to the extensive tunnel network, and counter-attacks after dark occurred against the various Marine perimeters.  English-speaking Japanese were used to harass or deceive Marines.  Voices would come out of the darkness, calling for a corpsman, pretending to be a wounded Marine as a means of luring Marines into Japanese kill zones.

Rifle fire proved ineffective against the Japanese positions, which forced the Marines into using flame weapons and grenades to flush the Japanese out of their fighting positions.  Flame tanks were routinely used by the Marines against the Japanese.  At night, the battlefield was illuminated by naval gunfire star clusters and locally employed mortar illumination rounds.  The number of night attacks increased over time, which the Marines repelled with crew-served weapons and on-call artillery.  Hand to hand fighting was a frequent occurrence at night, bloody melees that denied rest to the weary Marines.  Hundreds of Japanese soldiers were slaughtered, but not without taking American Marines with them.   

With the passage of time, of course, Japanese defensive positions weakened.  Kuribayashi realized early on that he would be defeated and most Japanese troops, experiencing shortages of food, water, and ammunition, realized this as well —but there would be no surrender.

First Iwo Jima FlagOn 23 February, four days after the Marine’s initial assault, 40 men from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines conducted a combat patrol to the summit of Mount Suribachi.  Their mission was to destroy enemy opposition and secure the summit.  To signal their mission’s success, First Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier [10], the patrol leader, was instructed to raise an American flag from atop Mount Suribachi.  The men who participated in this “first” raising of the American flag over Mount Suribachi were Lieutenant Schrier, Sergeant Henry Hansen, Platoon Sergeant Ernest Thomas, Corporal Charles Lindberg, PFC Raymond Jacobs (radioman), PFC Jim Michels, PFC Harold Schultz, Private Phil Ward, and US Navy Corpsman, Pharmacist Mate Second class John H. Bradley.  The flag raising was captured on film by Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery [11].  Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal had just come ashore when this first flag was raised and he said he wanted the flag as a souvenir.  The 2/28 commander, Lieutenant Colonel Chandler Johnson, however, flatly refused, stating that the flag belonged to his battalion (which the Marines had stolen from the USS Missoula (APA-211)).

Admittedly, the flag was hard to see from the beach, so Colonel Johnson dispatched a second patrol to the top of Mount Suribachi with a larger flag donated by the Commanding Officer of USS Duval County, (LST 758).  The second group of Marines, who were also assigned the mission of laying communications wire to connect the observation posts, were Sergeant Michael Strank, Corporal Harlon Block, PFC Franklin R. Sousley, PFC Harold Schultz, PFC Ira Hayes, and PFC Rene Gagnon [12].  When the Strank patrol reached the top, Lieutenant Schrier supervised the second raising, which was photographed by Joe Rosenthal and Sergeant Bill Genaust —the only photograph to win a Pulitzer Prize for photography in the same year it was published.  The Iwo Jima flag raising is one of the most recognizable images of World War II.  Rosenthal’s photograph was later used by Felix de Weldon in the sculpting of the Marine Corps War Memorial located adjacent to the Arlington National Cemetery.

While the 28th Marines remained engaged with Japanese forces on the slopes of Mount Suribachi, battalions from the 23rd, 24th, and 25th Marines of the 4thMarDiv, and the 26th and 27th Marines from the 5thMarDiv maneuvered toward the seizure of Airfield One.  The 5thMarDiv made spectacular gains of up to a thousand yards during this push, but the 23rd Marines, posted to the left of the 4thMarDiv, was unable to keep pace.  Stiff enemy resistance came from Japanese defenses along the East coast, all of whom were well-situated within impassable terrain.  The 23rd regiment’s deepest gain into this heavily contested zone was only around 200 yards.

To help overcome stiff enemy resistance, the 3rdMarDiv was ordered to send its 21st Marine Regiment ashore to reinforce the 4thMarDiv on 21 February.  The hope of replacing the beleaguered 23rd Marines with the 21st Marines was dashed because the terrain was so thick and impassable that the Marine advance was reduced to mere inches, rather than yards.  The 21st Marines was ordered to move forward after the hours of darkness —a difficult maneuver under any circumstances.  The two front-line regiments of each division were relieved on the morning of 22 February.  Heavy rain, enemy fire, and difficult terrain hampered relief operations.  General Rocky, commanding the 5thMarDiv, ordered the 26th Marines to relive the 27th.  All the while, the Japanese were paying close attention to the activities of the American Marines.  Hostile fire and ill-defined regimental boundaries made the move difficult but it was ultimately successful.  Replacing the 23rd Marines with the 21st Marines was equally difficult.  Six hours after the commencement of relief operations, the 23rd Marines were still engaged in heavy combat.

From 23 February, Mount Suribachi was effectively cut off (above ground) from the rest of the island.  By this time, the Marines realized that the Japanese defenders were operating from an extensive subterranean network.  Despite its isolation above ground, Suribachi was still connected to the main defense on the northern end of the island.  The terrain in the northern sector was rocky and favored a strong defense.  Kuribayashi’s defensive positions were difficult to hit with naval artillery.  In the northern area, Kuribayashi commanded the equivalent of eight infantry battalions, a tank regiment, two artillery battalions, and three heavy mortar battalions.  Japanese infantry was augmented by an additional 5,000 naval infantry and gunners.

On the morning of 24 February, the Navy delivered a 76-minute bombardment, joined by Marine artillery and carrier air strikes.  At 0915, 5thMarDiv tanks crossed into the enemy’s forward defenses along the western portion of the airfield.  Simultaneously, 4thMarDiv tanks pushed forward to the eastern edge of the field.  Mines and fire from Japanese antiaircraft guns halted the 4thMarDiv advance.  5thMarDiv units reached the airfield and began blasting entrenched Japanese in the hills to the North.  It was a bitter fight, but at the end of the day, 5thMarDiv units had advanced 500 yards. 

Iwo Jima Meat GrinderFor one full week, the 4thMarDiv was ground to a bloody pulp in what became known to the Marines as the “meat grinder” —a system of fortified ridges including Hill 382 and Hill 362A.  The meat grinder was a defensive system lying roughly halfway up the island, east of Airfield Two.  Here, the Marines were literally torn apart by Japanese positions on Hill 382, the highest ground, a bald hill known as the Turkey Knob, and a rocky bowl the Marines dubbed “the amphitheater.”  Situated within this complex was the main Japanese communications system that included a vast network of caves and tunnels.  It was from this point on the island that the Japanese had kept the Marines under close observation since D-day.

The approach to the meat grinder provided no cover or concealment.  Whatever vegetation had existed was stripped away by naval gunfire and laid bare a maze of rocks and brush and crossing defiles that led to the sea.  All approaches were covered by buried enemy tanks that exposed no more than their turrets and gun barrels.  Behind the tanks were systems of interlocking machine guns and light artillery.  Japanese anti-aircraft guns were depressed to fire point blank into the advancing Marines.  These three high points were mutually supporting; they could defend themselves, or one another.  It was not possible to seize the meat grinder one objective at a time —only by attacking all three points simultaneously.

General Erskine’s 3rdMarDiv (less the 3rd Marines) entered the fight on 25 February.  By this time, of course, the 21st Marines were already committed.  Erskine was ordered to advance along the relatively flat (although pockmarked sandstone) portion of the northern plateau.  Once these Marines had gained control of the tableland, they were in a position to attack down the many ridge lines leading to the sea.  The 9th Marines passed through the 21st Marines on 25 February.  The 3rdMarDiv attack began at 0930.  Its gains were slight, losses heavy.  The 9th Marines had come up against Kuribayashi’s main defense line.  General Schmidt gave the 3rdMarDiv fifty-percent of the corps’ artillery.  Flame tanks were moved up to incinerate the entrenched enemy.  After three days of horrific combat, the Japanese line finally cracked.  By the evening of 27 February, the 9th Marines controlled the twin hills north of Airfield Two.

During the afternoon of 28 February, the 21st Marines overran the ruins of Motoyama Village and seized the hills that dominated Airfield Three.  The 4thMarDiv was still struggling to seize Hill 382.  To the left, the 5thMarDiv was making every effort to seize Hill 362A.  The terrain features were the strongest links in the chain of Kuribayashi’s defenses.  Responsibility for seizing Hill 362A fell to the 28th Marines.  Several platoons from the 27th Marines had managed to reach the crest of the heavily fortified hill, but had to pull back in order to maintain contact with the rest of the regiment.  Augmented and reinforced by 3/26, the 28th Marines planned on renewing their assault on the morning of 1 March.

Deadly artillery and mortar fire greeted the Marines as they moved forward, but before the sun set, the crest of 362A was in American hands.  It was a costly advance: 224 Marines had been killed or wounded.  The next day, the entire hill was overrun and the neighboring Nishi Ridge was also captured.

By this time, Marines had been slogging it out in the meat grinder for four excruciating days.  On 3 March, the main effort was directed at Hill 382, but even with naval artillery and air strikes, progress was slow.  The Japanese had to be burned, or blasted out of their well concealed positions by rocket launchers, grenades, or flame throwers.  The Marine’s attempt to encircle the Turkey Knob was thwarted and it was only with the assistance of artillery and smoke screens that the Marines were able to disengage before darkness.  The Marine attack was renewed on the following day with 2/24 gaining control of Hill 382, but it was not until 10 March that the Japanese defending the Turkey Knob and the Amphitheater were eliminated.

While Marines reduced Japanese resistance in the meat grinder, the rest of the V Corps moved against the complex within Hill 362.  In the 5thMarDiv zone, Hill 362B was assigned to the 26th Marines.  The complex was declared secure on 3 March.  On 7 March, the 3rdMarDiv was poised to assault Hill 362C.  No matter how well dug in the Japanese were, the Marines found ways to prevail over them.  As but one example, the Japanese had learned that the Americans always attacked following an artillery barrage.  During these artillery assaults, the Japanese would take their guns inside and their troops would disappear inside their tunnel complex.  At the end of the barrage, the Japanese would reappear and maul the Marines with artillery and rifle/machine gun fire.  General Graves B. Erskine, commanding the 3rdMarDiv, ordered Colonel Kenyon’s 9th Marines to attack under the cover of darkness with no pre-assault fires.  Movement across Iwo Jima’s terrain at night was slow and tiring, but the enemy was caught by surprise and the attack was successful; the 9th Marines killed many Japanese while they were asleep, a key moment in the seizure of Hill 362 complex.

The following night, the Japanese organized a counter-attack led by Captain Samaji Inouye and a thousand troops.  Ninety Marines were killed, 257 more were wounded, but the next morning, the Marines discovered 784 dead Japanese.

Undeterred by the loss of Hill 362C, the Japanese continued to resist, but there was a change in Japanese behavior: their efforts were no longer coordinated, which means that their interlocking defenses had broken down.  Combat patrols from the 3rdMarDiv reached the seacoast on 9 March.  By the evening of 10 March, only one organized pocket of resistance remained active within the division sector.  Independent resistance continued, however.  Japanese diehards refused to surrender.

Meanwhile, the Japanese defending against the 4thMarDiv had grown desperate.  Communications had failed and unable to coordinate with supporting units caused some panic among the fanatical defenders.  Rather than depending on their defensive networks, the Japanese began a series of fanatical counter-attacks.  Enemy mortar and artillery fire increased during the evening of 8 March, and then, hugging the scorched earth, the Japanese attempted to worm their way through the lines of the 23rd and 24th Marines.  It was a failed attempt and by noon the following day, more than 650 Japanese had been killed by Marine defensive fires.  The failure of the Japanese to counter-attack Marine positions led to the dissolution of the enemy’s overall defense.  By 10 March, the 4thMarDiv had destroyed the Turkey Knob and Amphitheater salient and pushed combat patrols all the way to the seacoast.

We cannot say that organized resistance ceased, but henceforth, Japanese defenses took the form of independent pockets of resistance.  The 3rdMarDiv was forced to reduce a heavily fortified enemy pockets near Hill 362C, and the 4thMarDiv opposed a stubborn enemy halfway between the East Boat Basin and the Tachiiwa Point, and the 5thMarDiv would aggress Japanese troops around Kitano Point.

On 10-11 March, the 3rdMarDiv conducted a sweep of its sector along the coastline.  Most of the division concentrated on overwhelming enemy resistance southwest of Hill 362C.  The use of flame weapons and 75 mm howitzers was required to destroy these defenses.  The last vestige of Japanese resistance was crushed on 16 March.

The 5thMarDiv faced Kuribayashi’s stronghold, a gorge extending seven-hundred yards in length from the northwestern end of the island.  Marines destroyed the Japanese command post on 21 March and within a few days, managed to seal off (through the use of explosives) remaining caves and tunnels on the northern tip of the island.   On 25 March, a 300-man Japanese company attacked allied positions in the vicinity of Airfield Two.  US Army pilots, Seabees, and Marines battled the attackers for well over 90 minutes.  The American casualties included 53 killed, 120 wounded [13].

Iwo Jima was declared “secured” on two occasions, each one of these a bit premature: at 18:00 hours on 16 March, and at 09:00 hours on 26 March.  But after the main battle, the US 147th Infantry Regiment continued to battle thousands of Japanese holdouts who had resorted to guerrilla tactics.  Using well-stocked tunnels and caves, Japanese defenders continued to resist American advances for over three months.  During this time, the 147th slogged back and forth across the island using flame weapons, grenades, and satchel charges to dig out or seal up the enemy.  In the aftermath of the battle, an additional 1,602 Japanese were killed in small unit actions.  The last Japanese holdouts were Yamakage Kufuku and Matsudo Linsoki, who finally surrendered on 6 January 1949 [14].

During the Battle of Iwo Jima, US forces suffered 26,000 casualties.  Of these, 6,800 were killed in action.  Nearly 20,000 Japanese defenders gave up their lives on Iwo Jima; only 216 Japanese were taken as prisoners of war.  The Battle of Iwo Jima remained contentious for a number of years.  In the first place, senior Marine Corps officers were not consulted in the planning for this operation.  Secondly, the justification for Iwo Jima’s strategic importance as a landing and refueling site for long-range fighter escorts of B-29 bombers was both impractical and unnecessary.  Only ten such missions were ever flown from Iwo Jima.  Last, in the view of retired Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William V. Pratt, the “expenditure of manpower to acquire a small, god-forsaken island, useless to the Army as a staging base, and useless to the Navy as a fleet base … one wonders if the same sort of airbase could not have been reached by acquiring other strategic localities at a lower cost.”

There were important lessons learned from Iwo Jima, not the least of which was that the US Navy needed to increase pre-landing bombardments —a lesson that was incorporated into the Battle for Okinawa in April 1945.  Military planners also realized that a subsequent invasion of the Japanese home islands would be extraordinarily costly to allied forces.  This realization may have provided the justification for the United States’ use of atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Captain Robert Burrell, an instructor at the United States Naval Academy observed, “This justification [for the Battle of Iwo Jima] became prominent only after the Marines seized the island and incurred high casualties. The tragic cost of Operation Detachment pressured veterans, journalists, and commanders to fixate on the most visible rationalization for the battle. The sight of the enormous, costly, and technologically sophisticated B-29 landing on the island’s small airfield most clearly linked Iwo Jima to the strategic bombing campaign.  As the myths about the flag raising on Mount Suribachi reached legendary proportions, so did the emergency landing theory in order to justify the need to raise that flag.”

Crossed Flags EGATwenty-seven medals of honor were awarded to Marine and Navy participants of the Battle of Iwo Jima —14 of those were posthumous awards.  The number of medals of honor awarded to Marines in this one battle constituted 28% of the total of such awards to Marines during World War II.  Chief Warrant Officer-4 Hershel W. Williams is the last living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Battle of Iwo Jima.  As of this writing, he is 96 years old and  living in Fairmont, West Virginia.

The Battle of Iwo Jima formed the basis for a national reverence United States Marines that not only embodies the American spirit, but in the opinion of then Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, will guarantee the existence of the Marine Corps for another five-hundred years.  We shall see if the American people have a memory that will last that long.

Semper Fidelis …

Sources:

  1. Bradley, J.  Flyboys: A True Story of Courage.  Little, Brown, Publishers, 2003
  2. Bradley, J. With Ron Powers.  Flags of Our Fathers.  New York: Bantam Publishing, 2001
  3. Buell, H.  Uncommon Valor, Common Virtue: Iwo Jima and the Photograph that Captured America.  New York: Penguin, 2006
  4. Hammel, E.  Iwo Jima: Portrait of a Battle: United States Marines at War in the Pacific.  St. Paul: Zenith Press, 2006.
  5. Leckie, R.  The Battle for Iwo Jima.  New York: iBooks, 2006/1967.
  6. Wells, J. K.  Give me Fifty Marines Not Afraid to Die: Iwo Jima.  Abilene: Quality Publications, 1995.

Endnotes:

  1. A Japanese army was approximately equal in size and equipment to an American corps.
  2. “Father Island,” also known as Peel Island, is the largest island in the Ogasawara archipelago, laying 150 miles north of Iwo Jima.  A small Japanese naval base was established on Chichi Jima in 1914.  It was the primary site of long-range Japanese radio stations and a central supply depot.  From around December 1941, approximately 4,000 Japanese troops and 1,200 naval forces garrisoned the island.  Chichi Jima was a frequent target of allied air attacks.  Lieutenant George H. W. Bush, USN was shot down during one of these air attacks.  It was from Chichi Jima that the Japanese began to reinforce the volcano island of Iwo Jima.
  3. A group of three volcanic islands south of the Ogasawara archipelago, which the Japanese named Kita Iwo Jima, Iwo Jima, and Minami Iwo Jima.  A Japanese self-defense force base exists today on Iwo Jima consisting of about 380 troops.  It is the only human settlement remaining in the Volcano Islands.
  4. After the battle, Americans discovered that hundreds of tons of allied bombs and thousands of rounds of heavy naval artillery had almost no effect on the Japanese defenders on Iwo Jima.  The battle would last from 17 February until 26 March 1945.
  5. Kuribayashi was a Japanese intellectual who was trained as a cavalry officer.  In 1928, he served for two years as a military attache in Washington D.C., which enabled him to travel extensively in the United States and conducting research on American military and industrial capabilities.  For a short time, he studied at Harvard University.  A pragmatist, Kuribayashi often reminded his family that the United States was the last country Japan should ever fight.  Nevertheless, he had a job to do —and he did it.  American casualties on Iwo Jima were massive.
  6. Admiral Blandy was concerned that he would run out of ammunition, thereby reducing his ability to provide naval gunfire support to the Marines after the amphibious assault.  It was a legitimate concern
  7. After the battle, Lieutenant General Holland M. (“Howling Mad”) Smith, Commander, Expeditionary Force (Task Force 56) criticized Blandy for his lack of preparatory naval gunfire, charging him with costing the lives of Marines during the battle.  Given what we know today about Kuribayashi’s defenses, Smith’s claim was spurious.
  8. Gun barrels have a shelf life.  There is a limit to the number of rounds that can be fired before having to change these rifled barrels and it is a major undertaking.  If the barrels are not changed according to “service life” guidelines, bad things begin to happen, such as a reduction in accuracy and distance.  The more these barrels wear, the quicker the rate of wear, and the more erratic the ballistics.  Ideally, each ship capable of naval artillery had an adequate store of replacement barrels, but the extent of the availability of these replacement parts to Blandy’s force is unknown to me.
  9. Seventeen US sailors of the Pensacola were killed; seven more lost their lives on the Leutze.
  10. Harold G. Schrier (1916-1971) enlisted in the Marines in 1936.  He served with the China Marines in Beijing, Tientsin, and Shanghai before serving as a Marine Corps drill instructor at the MCRD San Diego, California.  In 1942, Schrier served with the Second Raider Battalion as a Platoon Sergeant, serving at Midway Island and on Guadalcanal.  He was field commissioned to Second Lieutenant in 1943 and served on Vangunu Island and Bougainville.  He was assigned as the Executive Officer of E/2/28 during the Battle of Iwo Jima and later assigned to command Delta Company 2/28.  During the Korean War, Schrier served with the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade at the Pusan Perimeter where he was wounded while commanding Company I, 3/5.  During Schrier’s combat service, he was awarded the Navy Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit (with valor device), Bronze Star (with valor device), and Purple Heart.  He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1957.  He passed away at the age of 54 in Bradenton, Florida.
  11. This photograph was not released to the press until 1947.
  12. Hansen, Strank, Block, and Sousley were killed in action a few days later.
  13. Some have speculated that, owing to the nature of the Japanese assault, Kuribayashi himself may have led this assault, but there is no evidence of this and General Kuribayashi’s body was never recovered.
  14. Pacific Stars and Stripes, page 5, reported on 10 January 1949.

 

The Admiral Who Knew …

USN 001Military and naval officers serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States.  The President nominates officers for advancement (confirmation is required by the United States Senate), and depending on their seniority, it is the President who approves their assignments [1].  Whenever an officer cannot, in good faith, serve the President, two things must occur: an officer with integrity must either resign his or her commission, or the President must relieve them from their duty assignment and send them away (either into retirement or reassign them to another duty). Generally, there are two reasons for presidential dismissal: insubordination, or professional disgrace (such as suffering considerable losses in war) [2].

James O. Richardson was born in Paris, Texas.  He entered the United States Naval Academy in 1898 and graduated fifth in his class in 1902.  His first assignment placed him in the Asiatic Squadron where he participated in the Philippine Campaign with later assignment to the Atlantic Squadron. Between 1907-09, while serving as a lieutenant, he was assigned command of the torpedo boats Tingey and Stockton, and later commanded the Third Division of the Atlantic Torpedo flotilla.  Between 1909-11, he attended the Navy’s post-graduate Engineer School, then served as an engineer on the battleship USS Delaware.  He was promoted to lieutenant commander and received an assignment to the Navy Department where he was charged with supervising the Navy’s store of fuel.

Richardson 001Promoted to commander, Richardson served as a navigator and executive officer of the battleship USS Nevada between 1917-19. Between 1919-22, Richardson was assigned to the Naval Academy as an instructor.  In 1922, the Navy assigned Richardson command of the gunboat USS Asheville.  Under his leadership, Asheville was dispatched to Asiatic waters where he also commanded a division of ships assigned to the South China Patrol.  After his promotion to Captain, Richardson was reassigned to Washington from 1924-27, where he served as Assistant Chief, Bureau of Ordnance —afterward commanding a destroyer division of the Atlantic Squadron and then returning to Washington for service with the Bureau of Navigation.

In 1931, Captain Richardson took charge of the new heavy cruiser USS Augusta and commander her for two years.  After attending the Naval War College (1933-34), he was promoted to Rear Admiral (Lower Half) and rejoined the Navy Department as its budget officer.  His first command as a flag officer was the scouting force, cruiser division, Atlantic Squadron.  He then served as an aide and chief of staff to Admiral J. M. Reeves, Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet, and afterward as Commander, Destroyer Scouting Force.  In 1937, he became Assistant Chief of Naval Operations under Admiral William D. Leahy.  In this position, he coordinated the search for Amelia Earhart and dealt with the Japanese attack on the USS Panay.  In 1938, Richardson assumed the duties as Chief, Bureau of Navigation and aided in the development of Plan Orange [3].  In June 1939, Admiral Richardson took command of the Battle Force, US Fleet, with temporary promotion to the rank of admiral.

In January 1940, Richardson was assigned as Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet [4].  According to journalist John Flynn [5], Admiral Richardson was one of the Navy’s foremost flag officers —a man who had made the study of Japanese warfare his life’s work and an outstanding authority on naval warfare in the Pacific and Japanese naval strategy.

One will note that in the 1930s, the European powers were moving rapidly toward another world war and Japan was rapidly increasing its power and prestige in Asia.  The Sino-Japanese conflict in Asia continued unabated.  In the United States, resulting from a lack of attention and funding, the army and navy were in a shamble.  For the navy specifically, new ships, while ordered, were still under construction.  In 1937-38, the United States was not ready for either of the world’s emerging conflicts; should something happen before new ships came online, the USN would have limited effectiveness in a two-ocean war.  The organization of the United States fleet in 1939 reflects the Navy’s overall unreadiness for war.  To correct this deficiency, the Navy began to re-commission ships from the mothball fleet, some of which were turned over to the British as part of the Lend-Lease Program.

In this environment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Fleet to move the Pacific Fleet from San Diego, California to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  His purpose in making this decision was to “restrain” Japanese naval activities in the Pacific Ocean Area.  Roosevelt made this decision without asking Admiral Richardson (who not only had responsibility for the US Fleet, but also a broad base of knowledge about Japanese naval warfare) for his opinion.  Admiral Richardson was not a happy sailor.

Admiral Richardson protested Roosevelt’s decision.  He not only took his concern directly to the president; he went to other power brokers in Washington, as well.  Richardson did believe that advance bases in Guam and Hawaii were necessary, but inadequate congressional funding over many years made these advance bases insufficient to a war time mission.  Richardson firmly believed that future naval conflicts would involve enemy aircraft carriers; to detect these threats, the US Navy would require an expanded surface and aviation scouting force.

Richardson 002Admiral Richardson was worried because he realized how vulnerable the US Fleet would be in such an exposed, vulnerable, and exposed location as Pearl Harbor.  Moreover, he knew that logistical support of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor would be a nightmare, made worse by slim resources and an inadequate logistical organizational structure.  Admiral Richardson believed that Roosevelt’s decision was impractical and strategically inept —that Roosevelt had no business offering US naval support to Great Britain when in fact the US Navy was barely able to stand on its own two feet.  It was also true that the Navy had little in the way of adequate housing, materials, or defensive systems at Pearl Harbor.  What Admiral Richardson wanted was to prepare the fleet for war at San Diego.  Then, once it was ready for war, the Navy could return to Pearl Harbor.

Most of the Navy’s admirals agreed with Richardson —the Pacific Fleet should never berth inside Pearl Harbor where it would become a sitting duck for enemy (Japanese) attack.  Admiral Richardson believed that Pearl harbor was the logical first choice of the Japanese high command for an attack on the United States because Pearl Harbor was America’s nearest “advanced base.”  Since the 1930s, the US Navy had conducted several training exercises against the Army’s defenses at Pearl Harbor; in each episode, the Navy proved that Pearl Harbor did not lend itself to an adequate defense.  Richardson communicated this information to President Roosevelt.

He also informed the President that, in his studied opinion, the United States Navy was not ready for war with Japan.  When Richardson’s views were leaked to the Washington press, President Roosevelt fired him.  On 1 February 1941, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel replaced Richardson as Commander, US Pacific Fleet, and Admiral Ernest J. King replaced Richardson as Commander of the US Atlantic Fleet.  Fired by the President of the United States, Richardson reverted to Rear Admiral and served as a member of the Navy General Board until his retirement in October 1942.

Admiral Richardson predicted war with Japan and where the Japanese would strike.  What the admiral knew ended up getting him fired from high command.  It is my opinion that Admiral Richardson’s story tells us much about Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Sources:

  1. Richardson, J. O. On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor: The Memoirs of Admiral J. O. Richardson, as told to Admiral George C. Dyer, Vice Admiral, USN (Retired).  Naval History Division, Department of the Navy, Washington, DC, 1973
  2. Steely, S.  Pearl Harbor Countdown: The Biography of Admiral James O. Richardson.  Gretna: Pelican Press, 2008

Endnotes:

[1] Permanent flag rank ends at major general/rear admiral (upper half).  Advancements beyond major general/rear admiral (paygrade 08) are temporary assignments (lieutenant general/general, vice admiral/admiral).  A major general who assigned as a corps commander will be temporarily advanced to lieutenant general for as long as he or she serves in that billet.  Should this officer retire from active service after three years, he or she will revert to permanent grade of major general (although he or she may be entitled to a higher rate of pay on the retired list under the “high 36” pay scale for flag rank officers).

[2] The first officer charged with treason was Brigadier General Benedict Arnold of the Continental Army.  During the War of 1812, Brigadier General William Hull, US Army, was court-martialed for cowardice in the face of the enemy.  Hull was sentenced to death, but President Madison remitted the sentence owing to his former “good” service.  President Lincoln fired several generals for their failure to win battles, Franklin Roosevelt fired several, Harry Truman famously fired Douglas MacArthur, Jimmy Carter fired Major General John K. Singlaub, George Bush fired three generals, and Barack Obama fired several.

[3] Plan Orange was a series of contingency operational plans involving joint Army-Navy operations against the Empire of Japan.  Plan Orange failed to foresee the significance of technological changes to naval warfare, including submarine, the importance of air support, and the importance of the employment of aircraft carriers.  Part of the navy’s plan was an island-hopping campaign, which was actually used during World War II.  Note: the Japanese, who were obsessed with the “decisive battle,” ignored the need for a defense against submarines.

[4] The organization of the U. S. Navy has changed considerably since the 1900s.  In 1923, the North Atlantic Squadron was reorganized into the US Scouting Forces, which (along with the US Pacific Fleet) was organized under the United States Fleet.  In January 1939, the Atlantic Squadron, US Fleet was formed.  On 1 November 1940, the Atlantic Squadron was renamed Patrol Force, which was organized into “type” commands: battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and training/logistical commands.  Then, early in 1941, Patrol Force was renamed US Atlantic Fleet.  The Commander-in-Chief, U. S. Fleet exercised command authority over both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets.  At that time, the Chief of Naval Operations was responsible for navy organization, personnel, and support of the fleet—and administrative rather than having any operational responsibility.

[5] The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor, 1945.

Operation Collar

British CommandoAfter the British Expeditionary Force had been evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940 [1], then Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered the creation of a force capable of carrying out raids against German occupied Europe.  Churchill envisioned a “ … specially trained troops of the hunter class, who can develop a reign of terror down these coasts, first of all on the ‘butcher and bolt’ policy (hit and run).”  What transpired from Churchill’s order was the formation of the British Commando, an idea inspired by Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke, whose suggestion was forwarded to General Sir John Dill, then serving as the Chief of the Imperial General Staff.  General Dill, who was aware of Churchill’s directive, approved Clarke’s proposal.

The Commandos were assigned to the operational control of the Combined Operations Headquarters with overall command assigned to Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, who was a veteran of the Gallipoli Campaign and the Zeebrugge Raid of World War I.  Accordingly, a call went out for volunteers from among serving British Army regulars within formations still in Britain and the men of the disbanded divisional independent companies [2] originally raised from the Territorial Army units who had seen service in the Norwegian Campaign [3].  By autumn of 1940, more than 2,000 men had volunteered for commando training.

Under pressure from Churchill, the Combined Operation Headquarters developed a plan dubbed OPERATION COLLAR.  Its objective was a reconnaissance of the French coast and the capture of German prisoners.  The operation was planned to commence just three weeks after the completion of Operation Dynamo [4].  This early in the war, the British Commando was inadequately trained to conduct amphibious raids, and most units were significantly understrength.  One of the Independent Companies, Number Eleven, was selected for the mission.  Its commander was Major Ronnie Tod from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.  The company was formed by soliciting volunteers from among the men already serving in Independent Company One through Ten.  The strength of Number Eleven was 25 officers and 350 enlisted men.

Major Tod removed his company from Scotland to the south coast city/seaport of Southampton.  Not long after arrival, Number Eleven began a series of exercises against local infantry battalions on the River Hamble.  Tod soon realized that the boats he had been provided were inadequate for transporting his men across the English Channel.  There being no other resources available for this purpose, Major Tod approached the Royal Air Force for the use of their air rescue craft that were based at Dover, Ramsgate, and Newhaven.  Lacking navigational equipment and reliable compasses, none of the boats were equipped for this type of operation—but they would have to do.

The final raiding plan would be carried out by 115 officers and men, who were divided into four groups targeting the beaches at Neufchâtel-Hardelot, Stella Plage, Berck, and Le Touquet.  During the crossing of the English Channel, the RAF pilots, who were unaware of the operation, flew close overhead of the boats to investigate, which endangered the men to the notice of German military and naval units.  Fortunately, the men proceeded without notice of the Germans and arrived at their designated targets at around 0200 on 24 June.

At Le Touquet, the raiders were assigned the Merlinmont Plage Hotel as an objective.  British Intelligence had suggested that the Germans may have been using the hotel as a barracks.  The raiders met this objective but discovered that it was empty and all doors and windows had been boarded up.  Unable to discover another target, the group returned to the beach only to find that their boat had withdrawn back to sea.  While waiting for the boat to return, two German sentries stumbled on the raiders and were quickly killed by bayonet.  Another German patrol happened by and discovered the raiders.  Unable to engage the Germans by fire, to protect the security of the three other units, the raiders of the Le Touquet operation abandoned their weapons and swam out to their boat.

The raiders at Hardelot penetrated several hundred yards inland, but encountering no Germans, they returned to their boat.  At Berck, the raiders discovered a heavily defended seaplane anchorage.  The mission being one of reconnaissance and capture, these raiders decided against attacking the anchorage.  At Stella Plage, Major Tod engaged a German patrol in a short-lived fire fight, which resulted in an observer, Lieutenant Colonel Clarke, receiving a slight wound.

Overall, the mission was one of mixed success.  The commandos learned something about the equipment they would need for future operations, they killed two enemy and stirred up other German units, and they caused Adolf Hitler to proclaim them as “terror and sabotage troops,” who, because their mission was “the murder of innocent civilians,” were acting contrary to the Geneva Convention.

Once the commandos had returned safely to England, the British Ministry of Information announced, “Naval and military raiders, in cooperation with the RAF, carried out successful reconnaissance of the enemy coastline.  Landings were effected at a number of points and contact was made with German troops.  Casualties were inflicted upon the enemy, but no British casualties occurred and much useful information was obtained.”  It wasn’t a precisely accurate announcement, but it did have a positive effect on the British people.  

The British Commando was an all-volunteer force organized for special services.  While they originally came from the British Army, the force would eventually consist of all branches of the British military along with certain foreign volunteers from countries occupied by Nazi Germany.  In time, the Commandos formed more than 40 separate units and four assault brigades.

Throughout World War II, commando service took place in all the theaters of war, from the Arctic Circle to Europe, the Middle East, and in the Pacific campaigns.  Operations ranged from small groups of men landing from the sea, or by parachute, to brigade-sized assaults that spearheaded the Allied invasion of Europe and Asia.

Following World War II, most commandos were disbanded, leaving only the Royal Marine 3 Commando Brigade, the Parachute Regiment, Special Air Service, and the Special Boat Service —all of which can trace their origins to the British Commandos.  Today, British Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment share this tradition with the Dutch Corps Commandotroepen, and the Belgian Paracommando Brigade.

Sources:

  1. Chappell, M.  Army Commandos, 1940-45.  Osprey Publishing, 1996.
  2. Dunning, J.  The Fighting Fourth: No. 4 Commando at War, 1940-45.  Sutton Publishing, 2003
  3. Joslen, H. F.  Orders of Battle, Second World War, 1939-1945.  Naval & Military Press, 1990.

Endnotes:

  1. My father-in-law (now deceased) was one of the more than 400,000 British, Belgian, and French forces evacuated from Dunkirk between 26 May and 4 June 1940.  Operation Dynamo became necessary when British and allied forces were surrounded and cut-off by three corps (nine divisions) of German troops and Panzer tanks during the six-week long Battle of France.  In total, the evacuation included the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), three French field armies, and what remained of Belgian forces.  During the Battle of France, the BEF lost 68,000 men (dead, wounded, missing, or captured) along with 2,472 artillery pieces, 20,000 motorcycles, and nearly 65,000 other vehicles.  Also given up were 416,000 short tons of stores, 75,000 short tons of ammunition, and 162,000 short tons of fuel.  All 445 British tanks were abandoned at Dunkirk.
  2. Independent companies were originally raised by the English Army and later the British Army during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for garrison duty in the homeland and at overseas colonies.  Independent companies were not part of larger military units (battalions/regiments), although they may have been detached from larger units.  In the 20th Century, the term applied to units organized to support temporary expeditionary missions.  During World War II, Independent Companies were raised from volunteers from Territorial Army divisions.  The Territorial Army formations were reserve units placed throughout the British Isles.
  3. The Norwegian Campaign was an attempt by Allied forces to liberate Norway from invading Nazi forces between 9 April – 10 June 1940.  The unsuccessful campaign prompted King Haakon VII and his family to flee to Great Britain.
  4. France’s Vichy government signed a peace accord with Nazi Germany on 22 June 1940, hence the term “Occupied France.”

The Eighth Marines – Okinawa

 Preface

Okinawa mapToday, Okinawa is the southern-most prefecture of Japan and accounts for two-thirds of the Ryukyu Island Chain that extends for a thousand miles from Kyushu to Taiwan.  It has a long and interesting history extending back to the Stone Age period.  It was once a kingdom in its own right and, because of its location, became an important trade center.  The kingdom entered into the Imperial Chinese tributary system during the Ming Dynasty beginning in the fifteenth century.

In 1609, Japanese warlords from present-day Kagoshima invaded the Ryukyu kingdom and forced the Okinawan king to accept the terms of the Tokugawa Shogun to become a vassal state, while at the same time maintaining is relationship with China as a tributary state.  Despite these two powerful controlling factors, the Okinawan kingdom retained a considerable degree of domestic political freedom for over two hundred years.  Four years after the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese government officially annexed the kingdom and it became known as Ryukyu-has.  Okinawa became a Japanese prefecture in 1879, much to the chagrin of the Chinese.

From the sixteenth century, European seafaring nations began to expand their trade routes west and east.  Driven by the expectation of commercial gain and perceived national interests, early explorers sought and discovered new maritime routes into the Pacific Ocean Area. These voyages of discovery created a demand for larger and faster ships; new shipbuilding technologies met these demands and laid the foundation for the creation of powerful and influential nation states.

The history of European empires is one of maritime interests because sea routes were faster and more secure in delivering raw materials and finished goods from one end of the planet to another.  The age of sail lasted from around 1600 to 1850.  It was also a period of rapid changes in scale, technology, society, and politics … a period when many of the political and legal institutions, scientific ideas, and economic structures shaped the modern world.

Naval and military forces were needed to protect overseas colonies, trading posts, and sea (or trade) routes.  This interest and effort expanded from the 1600s in the Atlantic, the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, and eventually into the southern, middle, and northern Pacific.  European empires drew significant wealth from their colonies, and given the institution of slave labor, cost them very little money.  Among the most powerful nations engaging in such enterprises was the British Empire, whose trade good included silk, dye, salt, and tea.

Great Britain’s loss of the American colonies, Spain’s loss of its Caribbean and South Atlantic colonies [Note 1] and competition from Russia, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austro-Hungary, Italy, and the emerging United States pushed colonial interests into the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean area.

Until around 1850, most seagoing vessels were powered by sail.  Even after the invention of steam powered engines, most ships used them only as a source of auxiliary power.  Still, the use of steam required coal, so it was incumbent upon these European powers to establish coaling stations and safe harbors for the repair of ships and rest stops for crews.

Before the Civil War, the United States’ only coaling station was located at Key West, Florida.  After the war, when the United States began looking toward the Pacific with increased interest, a coaling station was established at Honolulu, Hawaii.  As the conversion to steam powered ships increased, so too did the demand for coaling stations—and if the competing nations intended to invest the capital for the creation of coaling stations, then they would require an expanded navy and military to safeguard them —as well as protecting established trade routes.

At the beginning of the First World War, Japan agreed to join the allied powers on condition that it would be permitted to seize and retain control over German advanced bases located on several Pacific Islands [Note 2].  While Japan’s contribution to World War I was limited to guaranteeing the security of well-established sea lanes from the German Imperial Navy, its participation did increase Japan’s national prestige and provide justification for the expansion of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN).

When one considers the Japanese colonies prior to World War I [Note 3], the territories seized from Imperial Germany [Note 4] appears small and inconsequential, but they became part of Japan’s national pride.  And while the Japanese were helping themselves to German foreign territory, they may as well pick up a few additional islands that no one seemed to care about, such as at Iwo Jima.

Following World War I, loud voices demanded world peace and disarmament.  Perhaps the loudest of these voices were from women, who had only just won the right to vote in many “civilized” countries.  The ladies [Note 5] convinced leading politicians that money could be saved, votes won, and the future secured, by putting a halt to the arms race.  In the United States, practically every protestant organization became a strong proponent of international peace.

At war’s end, the United Kingdom still had the strongest navy in the world.  Even so, the British Navy was becoming obsolete and the costs associated with replacing the British fleet were astronomical.  The United States and Japan were quite quickly increasing the size of their respective navies.  Politicians became concerned about the increased rivalry between the United States and Japan [Note 6] in the Pacific Ocean Area.  Many viewed this rivalry as a long-term threat to the peace and security of the world.  To put a halt to needless, expensive, and possibly dangerous arms race, the major powers of the world met to consider a series of naval disarmament agreements.  It was called the Washington Naval Conference (1921-22).

The conference resulted in three major treaties: the Four Power Treaty [Note 7], the Five Power Treaty [Note 8], and the Nine Power Treaty [Note 9].  There were a number of smaller agreements, as well.  A subsequent conference was held in London in 1930, fittingly referred to as the London Naval Treaty.  Limitations of naval armaments placed on Japan, which were nationally insulting (given their status as a World War I ally), prompted the Japanese to cancel their agreements in 1936.

Notwithstanding these agreements, all signatories continued to expand their naval power as if there had been no international agreement at all.  In any case, the foregoing explains how Japan attained possessions of the Pacific Islands that American and allied serviceman would spill their blood to recapture during World War II.  Okinawa was one of these … in the Ryukyu Islands.

The Battle

USMC EGA 1775-1992Okinawa was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the Americans against the Empire of Japan.  Seizure of Okinawa was to have been the final step before an actual invasion of the Japanese home islands.  Allied possession of Okinawa would provide air bases for B-29 Bombers and open the way for tightening the blockade of Japanese shipping.  Okinawa would also provide a major staging area for supplies, should an invasion of Japan be necessary.

Late winter, 1945 witnessed extraordinary effort in the preparation for the invasion and seizure of Okinawa, an island only 350 miles from the southernmost tip of Japan.  This would be a joint Army-Navy-Marine Corps operation.  To execute it, the Tenth United States Army (X Army) was created around its commander, Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, who would command nearly 200,000 men and women serving in infantry, artillery, medical corps, quarter master, aviation, and combat engineer fields.  X Army would include 4 US Army Divisions and 3 Marine Divisions.  In addition to these land forces, naval forces included the Fifth Fleet, composed of Task Force 50, Task Force 58, and Task Force 57 (British).  For the total naval force, see [Note 10] and add 450 fighter aircraft of various specifications.

The enemy was commanded by Lieutenant General Ushijima Mitsuru.  He would have around 100,000 soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) at his disposal.  These forces were augmented by tens of thousands of Okinawan/Japanese civilians, some of whom aided the IJA, most of whom were simply in the way.

The 2nd Marine Division’s role in the upcoming operation would be similar to its initial assignment in the Tinian campaign.  The division would mount a feint assault on the Southeast coast of Okinawa near the city of Minatoga, while the main landings were taking place on the western coast.  Landing Day (L-Day) was scheduled for Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945.

Following the feint, 2nd Marine Division would be on call as III Amphibious Corps Reserve, Major General Roy S. Geiger, USMC, Commanding [Note 11].  “On call” means either as a reserve force or as reinforcements for any other divisional sized command.  The convoy arrived in adjacent waters early in the morning of 1 April.  At 0520, Japanese Kamikaze pilots, flying suicide missions, attacked the task force and struck ships carrying Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment (also said as Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 3/2).  The landings on the Western side of the Island were unopposed by Japanese forces, and so without even getting ashore, the 2nd Marine Division had sustained the only significant casualties on L-Day.

The convoy carrying the 2nd Marine Division steamed off the coast of Okinawa for several days, anticipating that the division would be needed and would soon go ashore.  Concern about aerial attacks resulted in the redeployment of the convoy back to Saipan.  In mid-May 1945, Lieutenant General Buckner specifically requested that the 8th Marines be returned to Okinawa.

8th Marines and 2/10 (artillery) departed Saipan on 24 May.  Its orders were to seize outlying islands near Okinawa in order the long range radar and aircraft detection equipment could be installed to offset the Kamikaze threat.  Shortly after 0600 on 3 June, BLT 2/8 and BLT 3/8 made an unopposed landing on the island of Iheya-Shima, which was 15 miles northwest of northern Okinawa.  The Island was declared secure the following day.  On 9 June, BLT 1/8 made a similar landing on Aguni-Shima, with no opposition, but these Marines did capture two Japanese Navy pilots.

US Army units relieved the 8th Marines a few days later and the regiment was redeployed to Okinawa to reinforce X Army in its final push through the Shuri Line [Note 12], a string of Japanese fortifications established for defense in depth.  By this time, X Army had pushed the Japanese into Southern Okinawa and fought its way into the capital city of Naha.  Fresh troops were needed against the entrenched enemy on the Kiyamu Peninsula.  For this operation, the 8th Marines would be attached to the 1st Marine Division as a relief for the battle-weary 7th Marines.

Men of the 1st Marine Division on Wana Ridge with Browning Automatic Rifle.On 18 June, 8th Marines led off the 1st Marine Division assault.  2/8, now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Harry A. Waldorf, moved from Mezado Ridge; Lieutenant Colonel Paul E. Wallace, commanding 3/8, marched to contact from Kunishi Ridge.  The regiment would make a lightening strike to the coast.  BLT 2/8 made a rapid advance some 1,400 yards in the face of moderate machine gun fire, individual rifle fire, mortar, and light artillery fires.

At mid-day, Lieutenant General Buckner (and staff) paid a visit to Colonel Wallace, the regimental commander.  While at the 8th Marine command observation post overlooking 3/8’s sector, six shells from a Japanese 47mm anti-tank gun slammed into the position.  General Buckner was mortally wounded by jagged pieces of coral that were thrown up in the explosions.  This was a tremendous loss to the Marines, whom Buckner admired, and which occasioned his visit.  Roy S. Geiger was promoted to Lieutenant General and assumed command of  X Army.

By mid-afternoon, 2/8 had seized the Kuwanga-Makabe Road and the Marines prepared to set in a perimeter defense late in the afternoon.  Company B, 1/8 was sent forward to assist in the night defense.

OFFICIAL U.S. MARINE CORPS PHOTO 120562The next day, 3/8 advanced through the lines of the 2nd Battalion to storm the heights of Ibaru Ridge.  On the heels of an American artillery assault, the battalion moved out under cover of dense phosphorus smoke and rushed the Japanese defenders at the top of the ridge.  Surprised by the sudden attack, the Japanese were pushed down the other side of the ridge into the sea.  By 1700, all elements of the regiment had broken through the Japanese defense and were on the beach.  This breakthrough severed the enemy’s defense structure on the peninsula and the Battle of Okinawa was almost over.

For the next two days, the 8th Marines worked with the units from the 1st Marine Division and 6th Marine Division to clear pockets of resistance.  India Company, 3/8 incurred heavy losses during one clearing operation on 20 June.  In retribution, the town of Makabe was overrun by the 8th Marines on 21 June.  There would be no more resistance from that town.

Okinawa 002On 22 June, 8th Marines participated in a final search and destroy operation into Naha.  On that afternoon, General Geiger announced that the island had been secured.  It had been 82-days of bitter and bloody fighting with this important victory going to the United States and allied forces.

In its brief participation in the Battle of Okinawa, 8th Marines and its attachments lost 48 killed, 357 wounded.  The 8th Marines were returned to Saipan on 1 July, where they rejoined the 2nd Marine Division.  They immediately began training for the invasion of Japan.

On 15 August 1945, the Emperor of Japan made a radio announcement that the Empire surrendered to US and Allied Forces.  No invasion of the homeland would be necessary.  Instead, the 2nd Marine Division was ordered to Kyushu, Japan to begin a period of occupation duty.  On Kyushu, the 2nd division joined the 5th Marine Division and 32nd Infantry Division.  8th Marines was assigned a sector of responsibility, and their mission was:

  • Disarm and demobilize all Japanese military forces
  • Enforce the terms of surrender
  • Assume control of all military installations
  • Dispose of all ordnance, explosives and weapons
  • Apprehend war criminals
  • Process military and civilian personnel returning to Japan from various regions of the Empire.  In connection with this last assignment, the Marines had to also process thousands of Koreans, Taiwanese, Okinawan’s, and Chinese and return them to their native lands.

When the 5th Marine Division received a new mission and departed from Japan, 2nd Marine Division assumed its area of responsibility and duties.  Afterward, the Marines would also take over the Army division’s duties as well.  

On 25 February 1946, BLT 3/8 was detached from the regiment and returned to the United States, where the battalion was deactivated.  In June, the 2nd Marine Division received orders to redeploy to the United States, turning over its duties to the 24th Infantry Division.  The 8th Marines, consisting now of only two battalions, sailed for Norfolk, Virginia, bringing to an end four and one-half years of combat deployment to the Far East.  Henceforth, the home of the 8th Marines would be Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Post Script

Most other Japanese-held Islands were either uninhabited or had evacuated its civilian population.  This was not the case with Okinawa, which had a very dense indigenous civilian populace.  In planning for this operation, Army officials estimated as many as 300,000 civilians were on Okinawa.  A third of these people died during the Battle of Okinawa.

War changes men permanently, and quite often, terribly.  One American soldier admitted that there was a time when American troops tried to distinguish between the uniformed enemy and civilians, but after 82 days of bitter fighting, the troops reached the point where they didn’t care if their targets were soldiers or civilians.  If people were moving, those people were going to die.

Okinawa populaceThis sad fact wasn’t unique to the American military.  According to the Okinawan Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, Japanese soldiers demonstrated complete indifference to civilian safety and its soldiers even used civilian as human shields.  There were also instances where Japanese soldiers murdered their own citizens to steal their food.  A Japanese commander ordered the execution of 1,000 innocent civilians as a demonstration of what would happen to the Okinawan people if they were caught spying for the American.  For the most part, however, Okinawan civilians were killed by artillery barrages, by starvation, disease, and suicide.

It’s enough to make an old man cry …

Sources:

  • Santelli, J. S.  A Brief History of the 8th Marines.  Washington: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, USMC, 1976
  • Rottman, G. L.  U. S. Marine Corps World War II Order of Battle, 1939-45.  Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002
  • Rottman, G. L.  Okinawa 1945: The Last Battle.  Osprey Publishing, 2002
  • Manchester, W.  Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War.  Boston: Little, Brown, 1960
  • Feifer, G.  The Battle of Okinawa: The Blood and the Bomb.  Lyons Press, 2001
  • Hastings, M.  Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007
  • Sledge, E. B.  With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa.  Oxford University Press, 1990
  • Potter, E. B. And Chester Nimitz.  Sea Power: A Naval History.  Prentice Hall, 1960.

Endnotes:

  1. And abolishment of the slave trade.
  2. Japan’s primary role in the First World War was to secure the sea lanes in the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans against the German Imperial Navy.  This arrangement enabled the Japanese to expand its sphere of influence in China and gain recognition as a “great” power in postwar geopolitics.  Seizing these islands cost the Japanese very little, and benefitted the Japanese a great deal.  Seizing German-held Islands was actually the brainchild of the Japanese themselves in 1914.
  3. Taiwan, Korea, Okinawa, Southern Sakhalin, Kuril Islands, and Port Arthur.
  4. South Pacific Mandate Islands and Shandong, China.
  5. International Council of Women; International Woman Suffrage Alliance.
  6. At the end of World War I, the United Kingdom was still a close ally of Japan but the Anglo-Japanese Alliance was getting ready to expire (1923) and, viewing Japanese activities in China, Korea, and its war with Russia, the British began to think that it would be better for their long-term interests to broker a close alliance with the United States, rather than with Japan.
  7. United States, United Kingdom, France, and Japan.  All parties agreed to maintain the status quo in the Pacific by respecting the Pacific territories of the other signatories, not seeking further territorial expansion, and mutual consultations in the event of a dispute.  The Four Power Treaty voided the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902.
  8. United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Japan.  All parties agreed to limit the construction of battleships, cruisers, and aircraft carriers.  The numbers of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines were not limited, but restrictions on tonnage were imposed.
  9. United States, United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the Republic of China.  This treaty affirmed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China as well as the “Open Door” Policy.  The Open Door Policy legitimized the notion that all nations should be permitted to trade with China on a equal footing and that China would not “close its door” to trade with signatory nations.  The Nine Power Treaty lacked any enforcement mechanism.  Japan blatantly violated this treaty when it invaded Manchuria in 1931.
  10. US Combat Ships: 11 Fleet Carriers; 6 Light Carriers, 22 Escort Carriers, 8 fast Battleships, 10 old Battleships, 2 large cruisers, 12 heavy cruisers, 13 light cruisers, 4 anti-aircraft light cruisers, 132 destroyers, 45 destroyer escorts.  US Amphibious Assault Ships: 84 Attack Transports, 29 Attack Cargo Ships, and numerous LCI, LSM, LST, and LSV ships.  US Auxiliaries: 52 submarines, 23 fast minesweepers, 69 minesweepers, 11 minelayers, 49 oilers.  Royal Navy Ships: 5 Fleet Carriers, 2 battleships, 7 light cruisers, 14 destroyers.
  11. Roy S. Geiger (1885-1947) joined the Marine Corps in 1907 and served as an infantry officer and naval aviator in his 40 years of active duty.  As a flag officer, he commanded the 1st Marine Air Wing, I Amphibious Corps, III Amphibious Corps, Tenth US Army, and Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.  He is the only Marine Corps officer to command a U. S. Army.  Geiger passed away from cancer while still serving on active duty in 1947, aged 62-years.  He was posthumously advanced to the rank of four-star general by the 80th Congress of the United States.  His personal decorations included the Navy Cross (2), Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3), and the Army Distinguished Service Medal.
  12. The Shuri Line was constructed to incorporate the fortification known as Shuri Castle.  The castle was constructed in 1429 and served as the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom.  It was almost completely destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa.  On 31 October 2019, a fire destroyed the reconstructed main hall and adjacent buildings.  In all, six buildings were completely gutted.  The fire was attributed to an electrical fault.  It was the fifth time the castle had been destroyed.  The Japanese plan to rebuild it.

The Eighth Marines – Tinian

Preface 

USMC SealTinian is a 12 mile long by 6 mile wide island three miles off the southern coast of Saipan.  It isn’t as rugged as Saipan, but almost completely encircled by tall cliffs which vary anywhere from six to 100 feet.  Its proximity to Saipan, its 9,000 Japanese defenders, and its suitability for a large air base made the island a target for capture and pacification.  Tinian thus became the next mission assigned to V Amphibious Corps.  General Smith was replaced by the former 4th Marine Division commander, Harry Schmidt [Note 1].

Preparations

For 43 days beginning on 11 June 1944, the U. S. Navy began a sustained campaign of bombing Tinian.  Army and Marine Corps artillery batteries, firing from the southern tip of Saipan, joined the assault on 20 June firing, in total, more than 24,000 rounds of 155 mm ammunition.  V Amphibious Corps scheduled an invasion for 24 July 1944.  The troops would go ashore on two narrow beaches on the northwestern side of the island.  The 2nd Marine Division would make a feint toward the southwest coast in order to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing the actual landing site.

Tinian LVTsEven a feint can produce a lethal result.  At dawn on 24 July, a navy convoy with seven transports appeared on the horizon off the coast of Tinian town.  The 2nd and 8th Marines loaded into landing craft, rendezvoused at a point four miles offshore and began their feint.  At about 2,000 yards, the Japanese opened fire with large calibre mortars.  The landing craft turned about and headed back out to sea.  Japanese 6-inch shore batteries then opened up on the USS Colorado (BB-45) and the USS Norman Scott (DD-690).  Colorado was hit 22 times within 15 minutes, Norman Scott received six rounds.  In total, navy casualties exceeded 60 killed and 240 wounded.  The Marines suffered no casualties.

The Battle

The feint landing force was re-embarked and headed to join the 4th Marine Division by 1100.  By this time, the 4th division was already ashore.  The 2nd division came in behind them, with 1/8 the first battalion ashore.  Because it was late in the day, 1/8 went into reserve for the 4th Marine Division; the rest of the 2nd Marine Division would come ashore the next day.  The Japanese assaulted the American perimeter three times during that night.

Colonel Wallace [Note 2] and the 8th Marines headquarters came ashore just after dawn the next morning, the balance of his regiment following later in the day.  The Japanese attempted to counter these landing operations through sporadic and ineffective artillery fire.

Once the 8th Marines was again intact, the battalions moved out of the perimeter to expand the beachhead.  The 8th Marines primary objective was Ushi Point, the northern-most peninsula.  At first, the regiment experienced no opposition, but this changed as the Marines worked their way over the gnarled and rocky terrain.  Enemy snipers and machine gun fire sent the Marines into cover and the advance came to a standstill late in the morning when 1/8 came into contact with a company of Japanese riflemen.  The Marines flanked the enemy and they were soon neutralized.  After the regiment moved forward once again, 2/8 set the pace to the airfield at Ushi Point.  Upon arrival, the 8th Marines tied in with 1/24 and the Marines went into  bivouac.   

Tinian Aircraft 001The regiment moved against the airfield on the next morning only to find it abandoned with the wreckage of Japanese aircraft strewn along the landing strip—the result of the Navy’s bombardments.  1/8 and 2/8 proceeded to the east coast, confirming that the enemy had departed the area.  8th Marines then went into Corps reserve and saw little enemy action for the next few days.  A typhoon slammed the island on 28 July and the Marines remained soaking wet for the next two days.

By the end of the month, Marines had cleared the northern end of the island; the Japanese had relocated south.  The 2nd Marine Division moved south to join the 4th in pursuit of the enemy.  The 8th Marines was ordered to support the right flank of the 2nd division’s front.  By the end of the day, the 8th Marines were in place and the men went into bivouac.

By the next morning, the Japanese were compressed within a small area on the southern end of Tinian.  The navy launched a massive bombardment; within two hours, 625 tons of munitions had been lobbed into the Japanese position.  When the firing stopped, the Marines moved out and confront whatever remained of the entrapped Japanese.

In the 2nd Marine Division’s front was a cliff where some number of Japanese had taken refuge.  Colonel Wallace directed 1/8 (LtCol Lawrence C. Hays [Note 3]) and 3/8 (LtCol Gavin C. Humphrey) to assault this position, 2/8 (LtCol Lane C. Kendall) following in trace mopping up isolated pockets of the enemy.  8th Marines’ forward units reached the base of a massif at around noon with elements of the 4th division on their right.  3/8 was ordered to scale the heights where there were several caves and crevices masked by dense foliage.  From these positions, the Japanese directed intense fire down upon the Marines.  The navy’s bombardment had not done its job and 3/8 was pulled back.

Meanwhile, 1/8 had started its own ascent, their forward movement continuing despite heavy Japanese fire.  Two platoons made it to the top of the massif at around 1630.  Colonel Wallace directed 3/8 to continue his assault.  At 1700, Kendall moved up to support Humphrey.  Meanwhile, three companies of Hays’ battalion had pushed their way to the top of the cliff.  As Kendall moved his 2nd battalion into position to follow in trace, the Japanese launched a strong infantry assault on Echo Company, forcing 2/8 to assume a defensive perimeter for the night.

That night, the Japanese initiated several probing assaults to discover weaknesses in the Marine line.  Contact between Hays and Humphrey was lost.  Just after midnight, the Japanese infiltrated a large group of soldiers behind the Marine positions and launched an attack against Kendall’s 2/8.  The Marines drove the Japanese back and then launched a counter-attack killing most of the infiltrators.  Colonel Wallace requested reinforcements.  The division commander ordered 3/6 to move up at 0320 to support the 8th Marines.  Artillery was assigned fire missions on the hill.  

At 0515, six-hundred Japanese soldiers and sailors assaulted the 8th Marines.  Kendall’s battalion was hardest hit, and Echo Company took the brunt of the attack.  The enemy failed to penetrate the Marine’s lines, but again, Echo Company was nearly overrun in a fanatical banzai charge.  Echo Company’s survival was likely the result of two 37mm guns employed with canister shot into the enemy assault.  When the Japanese withdrew, they left behind 200 dead.  8th Marines suffered 74 killed and wounded.

Hardest hit, Kendall’s battalion went into reserve.  At daybreak, Humphrey made his way to the top of the cliff and linked up with Hays’ battalion and 3/6.  Kendall’s 2/8 reached the top a short while later.  From this position, the Marines discovered a large body of Japanese and Korean civilians hiding in the caves. 

Tinian Mopping up 001Tinian was declared secure on 1 August 1944, but there did remain surviving pockets of Japanese enemy who had no intention of surrendering.  The 8th Marines assumed sole responsibility for finding and dealing with Japanese holdouts.  This task kept Hays’ 1/8 busy for the rest of the year.  Between 1 August and 1 January 1945, an additional 500 Japanese were killed; the Marines lost 38 killed and suffered 125 wounded in action routing them out —which was approximately half the total casualties suffered by the 8th Marines during the actual operation.

In total, the Americans suffered 1,900 casualties on Tinian.  The Japanese dead came to 5,500.

The United States began constructing a B-29 air base at Tinian almost immediately.  The atomic weapons dropped on the Japanese homeland were launched from Tinian.  But in January 1945, the war was far from over.

Next week: Okinawa

Sources:

  1. Santelli, J. S.  A Brief History of the 8th Marines.  Washington: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, USMC, 1976
  2. Rottman, G. L.  U. S. Marine Corps World War II Order of Battle, 1939-45.  Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002
  3. Rottman, G. L. And Howard Gerrard.  Saipan and Tinian 1944.  Oxford: Osprey Publishing 2004.
  4. Potter, E. B. And Chester Nimitz.  Sea Power: A Naval History.  Prentice Hall, 1960.

Endnotes:

  1. General Schmidt (1886-1968) (known as Dutch to his friends) was commissioned a second lieutenant on 17 August 1909.  In a career spanning nearly 40 years, Schmidt served at sea, in South and Central America, and China.  As Commanding General, 4th Marine Division and Commander, Fifth Amphibious Corps, he led Marines at Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima.  He was awarded the Navy Cross, Navy Distinguished Service Medal (3), Legion of Merit, and Bronze Star Medal (with combat V device).
  2. Gerald R. Wallace (1897-1988) received his commission as a Marine after graduation from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1919.  In addition to normal sea service, Wallace served in Haiti, China, and England.  During World War II, he participated in combat operations at Kwajalein, Saipan, and Tinian.  Colonel Wallace was advanced to Brigadier General on the retired list on 30 June 1949.  His military decorations include the Legion of Merit (2) (with combat V device) and the Bronze Star Medal (with combat V device).
  3. While serving as a major, Hays was wounded on Tarawa; he participated in the battles of Saipan and Tinian.

The Eighth Marines – Saipan

Preface

Crossed Flags EGASaipan is an island within the Marianas Island group.  It is 12 miles long and just under 6 miles wide, altogether encompassing around 90 square miles.  Following the Spanish-American War (1898), the United States occupied the island of Saipan, a Spanish-held territory, for a short period of time.  Subsequently, Spain sold the island to Germany in 1899.  Germany administered the island as part of German New Guinea, but there was never any serious attempt to develop of settle the island.  Essentially, control of Saipan remained in the hands of its Spanish/Mestizo landowners.

During World War I, Japan was an ally and therefore an enemy of Germany.  Japan “captured” Saipan and, with appreciation for their participation in World War I, the League of Nations granted to Japan formal control over it.  In time, Saipan became one of Japan’s more important possessions and a place for Japanese settlement beginning in the 1920s.  Extensive sugar plantations were developed and the Japanese began to improve the island’s infrastructure—including port facilities.  In October 1943, the civilian population of Saipan was just under 30,000 Japanese.

During World War II, the Japanese regarded Saipan as one of its last lines of defense of the Japanese homelands and became strongly committed to defending it.  Unhappily for the Empire of Japan, the allied military campaigns of 1943-44 successfully defeated the Imperial Japanese Army in the Solomon Island, Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, and on the Papuan Peninsula of New Guinea.  All the Japanese had remaining at this point in the war was the Philippine Islands, the Caroline Islands, the Palau Islands, and the Mariana Islands.

General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area, did not favor Admiral Nimitz’ mid-Pacific island-hopping campaign.  In his opinion, island-hopping was a tragic waste of available manpower.  On the other hand, history reflects that were it not for these bloody campaigns, American air power would have been restricted at a time when it served the interests of the United States to pound the Japanese into submission.

Preparation

After leaving Tarawa, the 8th Marine Regiment was transported to Hawaii, stopping first at Peal Harbor to off-load the wounded for treatment at military hospitals.  The regiment then proceeded to the big Island of Hawaii for billeting.  Their bivouac site was located 65 miles from the city of Hilo, in the mountainous area between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa (two active volcanoes).  It was up to the men to construct their own camp, which they did and named Camp Tarawa.  The Island of Hawaii provided these Marines with a much cooler climate than they were used to, but it also helped men still suffering from malaria.  In January 1944, the Commanding General, 2nd Marine Division ordered his staff to begin working on a training syllabus that would prepare his men for the next combat mission.  Before this could happen, however, the 8th Marines needed personnel replacements and a refit in uniforms and equipment.

Admiral Nimitz targeted Saipan as the Division’s next operation sometime during the summer of 1944.    Major General Thomas E. Watson [Note 1] replaced Julian C. Smith in April 1944.  Saipan was important to Admiral Nimitz because he judged it as being the key to controlling the central Pacific area.  Capturing Saipan would disrupt Japanese communications with the home islands, and provide air and sea bases for the U. S. Navy.  From Saipan, the United States could strike at Japanese installations in the Philippines, Formosa, China, and even the Japanese home islands.

Once more, Lieutenant General H. M. Smith would command the V Amphibious Corps.  His landing force at Saipan would include the 2nd Marine Division under General Watson, and the 4th Marine Division under Major General Harry Schmidt.  Serving in reserve was the US 27th Infantry Division under Major General Ralph C. Smith.

The terrain features of Saipan range from hilly with rolling plateaus in the eastern and Northern region to narrow coastal flats and at some locations, the rocky hills end abruptly in high cliffs that drop into the sea.  In the southern and western areas, the island is relatively flat.

Japanese defensive structures, while incomplete, were still formidable.  For one thing, the Japanese had learned how to fight a defense-in-depth [Note 2], which is costly to the attacking force.  Meanwhile, US intelligence under-estimated the Japanese strength and calculated it to be around 19,000 men.  In reality, it was closer to 32,000 and every one of these men were committed to give up their life for their Emperor.  

The American expeditionary force began an incremental departure from Hawaii in May 1944.  In total, 110 transport ships were required to carry this force to the Marianas.  Air and naval bombardments began on 11 June, but by now, particularly among the veterans of Tarawa, few Marines had much confidence in the effectiveness of either source; they would not be disappointed.

The 2nd Marine Division was assigned to assault the beaches just north of Charan Kanoa in the southwestern sector of the island.  The 8th Marines, now commanded by Colonel Clarence R. Wallace, would assign 2/8 and 3/8 to the initial landing.  As the Navy bombarded the coast shortly before dawn on 15 June, the assault units loaded into LVTs and the tractors aligned themselves for a dash to shore, scheduled for just after 0800.

The Battle is Joined

Saipan 003The command to “land the landing force” came on schedule and the Marines were on their way.  As the amphibian vehicles approached shore, they came under intense fire from Japanese cannons, anti-boat guns, artillery, and mortars.  Many of the tractors were hit and either sunk or were disabled.  Despite these conditions, 8,000 Marines were on the beach in the first twenty minutes.  In the confusion caused by Japanese defensive fires, LVT drivers came ashore in the wrong landing zones.  The entire division assault group landed 400 yards north of their assigned sector.  Moreover, communications with the 4th Marine Division was disrupted.  By landing the Marines at the wrong beach, there was an accidental massing of troop formations, and these became easy targets for Japanese gunners.

Both 2/8 and 3/8 moved into the attack against a formidable Japanese defense.  At 0950, Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence C. Hays, commanding 1/8 received orders to go ashore.  Two battalions were not enough to expand the perimeter.  1/29 under Lieutenant Colonel Tannyhill was attached to the 8th Marines for this purpose.  By noon, other Marine units had come ashore and moved inland 1,000 yards.  Marines seized the air strip near Charan Kanoa and a Japanese radio station.  Within the hour, Japanese were battling to stop the Marines.  Heavy fighting near Afetna Point persisted throughout the day.  Golf 2/8 overran Japanese positions and captured seven anti-gun boats.  Given the close proximity of Marine battalions, many Marines were armed with shotguns in order to avoid accidentally hitting fellow-Marines.  Moreover, the shotguns had a wide dispersal pattern and were found more efficient at killing Japanese at close range. 

Confusion during the landing caused the 8th Marines to fall behind schedule in meeting their objectives.  Making things worse, all three battalion commanders in the regiment were hit during the landing phase.  3/8’s commander was badly wounded by a mortar round; the XO of 3/8 was also wounded.  1/8’s CO was hit with rifle fire on the beach; 2/8’s LtCol Crowe [Note 3] was also wounded, suffering a gunshot wound to his left lung but he initially refused evacuation.  While being examined at the aid station, however, a Japanese mortar round exploded nearby sending fragments into his chest, left arm and shoulder, and right leg.  The obstinate colonel was forcibly removed from the beach.  Command shifted to Major William C. Chamberlin, who also received wounds but continued to exercise control of his battalion.

Saipan 002That night, the Japanese mounted several counter-attacks, but they were weak efforts and more likely designed to keep the Marines awake.  At the end of the first day, the 2nd Marine Division suffered 1,300 killed or wounded; 300 Marines were reported as missing in action.  The Marines had committed their reserve force and that, along with the number of casualties sustained on the first day, compelled General Smith to commit the Corps Reserve.  Major General Ralph C. Smith [Note 4], commanding the US 27th Infantry Division, was ordered to land his division.  The division, however, was not fully ashore for another four days.  

On 17 June, the tempo of battle increased for the 8th Marines when 1/8 and 3/8 began their advance inland and quickly achieved their objectives; 1/29, however ran into stiff resistance in the marsh surrounding Lake Susupe.  Elements of the 4th Marine Division reached the East coast of Saipan on the 18th, which severed the island into two parts.  The 2nd Marine Division prepared to execute a wheeling maneuver to move north.  The 27th US Infantry Division was assigned the task of mopping up remnants of enemy positions bypassed on Nafutan Point [Note 8].

General Smith ordered V Amphibious Corps to execute a major offensive for 22 June.  Both Marine divisions would participate in the attack with most of the 27th brought up for additional muscle.  When the operation commenced, 2nd Marine Division occupied the left flank with the 4th Marine Division on the right flank.  The 8th Marines made excellent progress until reaching the lower slopes of Mount Topotchau.  Here, the terrain became rugged and impeded further advance.

Operations commenced again the next day.  The 27th US Infantry Division was now committed to the center of the Corps’ formation.  Terrain again slowed progress, but there was another problem.  8th Marines, operating to the right of the Division’s TAOR, lost contact with the 106th Infantry Regiment, which was assigned to the 8th Marines’ immediate right.  The Army division’s main attack had been halted in an area that became known as “Death Valley” [Note 5]  It was an area with strong Japanese fortifications.  The 8th Marines continued their attack, but again, rough terrain slowed their pace.

Colonel Wallace ordered another attack on 25 June: four battalions (including 1/29) pushed forward to achieve the summit.  Now under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Rathvon M. Tompkins [Note 6], 1/29 reached the summit and discovered an exceptional observation post.  Enemy counter-attacks failed to dislodge the Marines.  Below, the balance of the 8th Marines struggled over the challenging ground.  Enemy riflemen, afforded good cover and concealment, harassed and ambushed the Marines.

On 28th June, the regiment advanced on three small hills where they met stiff enemy resistance.  As these Marines were exhausted, Colonel Wallace halted the push at 1600.  The next morning, the Marines executed a series of probes to discover enemy defenses and for the next two days searched for a practical route suitable for heavy equipment (tanks).  A path for tanks was found and with their aid two of the hills fell to the Marines.  After smashing the remaining two hills with artillery and rockets, the 8th Marines enabled the 2nd Marine Division to proceed in good order to the destroyed city of Garapan, Saipan’s largest.

The 8th Marines, now consisting of the 1st and 3rd battalions and 1/29 made a thrust at Tanapag Harbor.  The terrain was wooded but not prohibitive and the Marines made good use of their tank/infantry coordination.  On 2 July, a Japanese machine gun raked the entire front of 2/8 and 1/29.  Colonel Tompkins fell wounded.  He was replaced by LtCol Jack Juhan, the regimental executive officer.  The Japanese continued to pour fire into Marine positions.  Flame weapons and armor were rushed forward, but the Japanese position could not be defeated.  Ultimately, Wallace decided to bypass the position and continue the advance.  Fox 2/8 was detailed to remain behind to contain the Japanese.  Two days later, the 8th Marines reached the sea.  General Smith ordered the 2nd Marine Division into Corps reserve for the rest of the day.

On the night of 6-7 July, 5,000 Japanese launched a banzai charge which nearly overran the entire 105th Infantry Regiment and spilled over into the lines of the 10th Marines (artillery).  This bloody fight ended when Marine/Army units were rushed to reinforce the 105th, but not before the Army experienced yet another 1,000 casualties.  The cost to the Japanese, however, was much higher: 4,000 enemy killed.

SAIPANThe 2nd Marine Division went back on the line on 8 July to relieve the exhausted 27th and began a final drive against the shattered Imperial Japanese Army.  The 8th Marines pushed north and then wheeled inland through the hills, south of Marpi Point, back to Saipan’s northeastern beach.  The maneuver was completed on 9 July and the 8th Marines joined with the 2nd Marines, 24th Marines, 25th Marines at Marpi Point.  It was here that the Marines witnessed hundreds of Japanese soldiers and civilians leaping to their death from the rock ridges overlooking the sea.  Japanese propaganda had informed these people that they would be tortured and killed if they were captured by the Americans.  It was a horrific event that marked the end of organized enemy resistance on Saipan.  Mopping up operations would take several additional months, however.

The Japanese lost 23,800 killed in action; US experienced 16,500 casualties (killed and wounded).  The 8th Marines lost 300 killed in action with 1,100 wounded.  Saipan gave the United States its first B-29 base, from which the Japanese home islands were easily reachable.  After the war, Japanese officials acknowledged that Saipan marked the beginning of the end for the Empire of Japan.

Next week: Tinian

Sources:

  1. Santelli, J. S.  A Brief History of the 8th Marines.  Washington: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1976
  2. Rottman, G. L.  U. S. Marine Corps World War II Order of Battle, 1939-45.  Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002
  3. Rottman, G. L. and Howard Gerrard.  Saipan and Tinian 1944: Piercing the Japanese Empire.  Osprey, 2004
  4. Johnson, R.  Follow Me: The Story of the 2nd Marine Division in World War II.  Canada: Random House, 1948.
  5. Potter, E. B. And Chester Nimitz.  Sea Power: A Naval History.  Prentice Hall, 1960.
  6. Morison, S. E.  New Guinea and the Marianas, 1944.  A History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.  Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2001
  7. Goldberg, H. J.  D-Day in the Pacific: The Battle of Saipan.  Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2007

Endnotes:

  1. Major General Watson (1892-1966) (sometimes referred to as “Terrible Tom” ) served as a US Marine Officer from 1912-50.  He commanded 2/6, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Marine Division, and Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific.  He retired in grade as a Lieutenant General.
  2. A tactical scheme of mutually supporting positions that are each capable of an all-round defense that have sufficient depth to prevent an enemy from achieving freedom of maneuver.  Strategically, a succession of defended areas permits the continuation of hostilities after forward areas have been lost.
  3. See also: The Eighth Marines-Guadalcanal; The Eighth Marines-Tarawa.  LtCol Crowe was one tough old buzzard.
  4. Major General Ralph C. Smith, United States Army, (1893-1998) served in World War I and World War II.  He commanded 1st Battalion, 30th US Infantry Regiment, 27th US Infantry Division, and the 98th US Infantry Division.  His personal decorations include the Silver Star Medal (2), Legion of Merit, and the Purple Heart.  General Smith was a fine officer who unfortunately ran afoul of LtGen “Howling Mad” Smith, his immediate superior at Saipan.  The clash caused problems between the Army and Marine Corps that lasted for many years.
  5. “Death Valley” was a result of the conditions explained in Note 2, above.
  6. Retired as a Major General.  His command experience included 1/29, 5th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, MCRD Parris Island, 3rd Marine Division, and MCB Camp Lejeune, NC.  He passed away in 1999, aged 87 years.