Iwo Jima

Iwo Jima is a tiny volcanic island about 5 miles long and 2 miles wide at its widest. It is some 600 nautical miles from Japan, and is one of a whole string of islands stretching southward from Tokyo. On this island of only 8 square miles, some 5,800 Americans Marines and 900 Sailors were killed, and about 18,000 wounded. The incentive for taking this tiny island was to provide a landing field close to Japan to facilitate heavy bombing thereof.

We arrived at Iwo (from Ulithi) on February 16, 1945 in Task Unit 54.9.2 composed of 2 battleships, 2 heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser, 9 destroyers and 2 destroyer transports. Due to the proximity to Japan and to the airfields on nearby islands, there were numerous air attacks.

We did our usual thing: screening the larger ships, shore bombardment, etc. We also spent time north of Iwo, near Haha Jima and Chichi Jima as a radar “picket” boat to warn the folks at Iwo of enemy aircraft heading south. As we approached Japan, ships on picket duty became very important in providing early warnings. However, picket duty became very dangerous because the picket ships were the first targets seen by the enemy aircraft as they headed south; and more and more of the enemy aircraft were Kamikaze planes.

D-Day on Iwo was February 19 (exactly 50 years ago as I write this in February 1995!). The Navy ships and aircraft had done their best, through bombardment, to neutralize the shore gunnery installations, but these were so well dug into the hillsides and in caves that many, indeed most, were functional on D-Day. We stood close in-shore to try to draw the enemy fire so that we would know where they were. Good cooperation between us “little boys” and the larger ships was effective. We could go close and spot an enemy installation, mark it with shell-fire, and then the battleships could blast them with their 2,000-lb. projectiles.

An interesting insight into military personnel in action: While we were lying-to near the shore, self-propelled amphibious Marine vehicles would sometimes come alongside to stock up on water (and if chow was down, to get a meal). We were naturally very happy to oblige, and we certainly didn't want to swap places with them on the beach. However, on a couple occasions, while Marines were on board, we had an air attack. The Marines departed for shore post haste. We felt more comfortable in our usual milieu aboard ship (even though we had no armor) and they felt more comfortable ashore (where they could dig a fox-hole)!

But in spite of our best efforts, the Marines had an awfully bad time. We could sit offshore, a mile or less, and watch those poor devils pinned down on the beaches. The initial landings went according to plan and were fairly easy, but then the Japanese commenced their well planned defense. Many of the Jap installations, particularly mortars, were so well camouflaged that we could not locate them. The only sure way to silence the enemy was for the infantry to attack, with explosives, hand grenades, and flame throwers; to kill, bury, or entomb. Approximately 21,000 Japanese were killed; very few prisoners were taken.

We did all we could to assist the Marines, but it was pitifully little. We felt justifiably proud on a couple occasions when we were asked to relieve a battleship on shore bombardment duty. We could get much closer and shoot very accurately.

While at Iwo, we also flushed out a Japanese submarine and spent two days on a “hunter-killer” mission. We made many attacks, heard underwater explosions, saw oil-slicks and debris—but the kill was never confirmed. These could all have been decoy maneuvers.

We remained at Iwo until March 8 and then headed for Ulithi to prepare for, what turned out to be, our final operation: Okinawa. (continued)