A Marine Moment: The Flag Raising on Mount Suribachi

By Scott Parrino 26 Apr 2003 0

Uneasy Marines

Many of the Marines on the transports headed for Iwo Jima had an uneasy feeling about what was to come. That uneasiness came in spite of the fact that one of the largest invasion fleets in history, with 16 fleet carriers and 8 battleships to protect it, and a total of over 200,000 fighting men of the United States was now about to descend on a tiny island called Iwo Jima. The largest Marine force ever assembled in history was contained within the fleet that sailed toward destiny.

At dawn on February 16th, General Kuribayashi and his men awakened to an awesome sight. Their island garrison of Iwo Jima was ringed with US warships. As daylight increased, minesweepers threaded their way through the waters to clear a path for the larger ships. Destroyers formed a protective screen on the seaward side. Among the ships present was the battleship New York, which had sailed with the British in World War One. The Arkansas was also present, commissioned in 1912, the oldest US battleship still in service. Indeed, many of these vessels were older than the men who served aboard them.

Aboard the flagship were special staffs to gather reports from spotting planes, keep track of targets, direct offshore gunfire and estimate damage. The escort carrier Wake Island carried planes with pilots specially trained in spotting for naval gunfire. The entire island had been mapped out in numbered squares. Each square was assigned to a warship and known targets within its borders marked and numbered.

The bombardment was set for three days. Holland Smith had pleaded for at least ten days of pre-invasion shelling, but TF 58 had a scheduled visit near the home islands of Japan. Admiral Spruance, therefore, allowed only the three days for the initial pasting of the island. General LeMay lent his B-29s to add to the bombing runs of the B-24 Liberators.

The first day was heavily overcast and the shelling produced minimal results. Less than 30 key targets out of a possible 700 were hit. The Japanese rejoiced in heavenly intervention. When the next day dawned clear and bright, Admiral Blandy had his ships to close to 3,000 yards.

Japanese gunners mistook rocket-firing LCI's as the first landing wave and lashed out with vicious 6-inch shellfire. The salvos were deadly accurate and 12 of the LCI's were either sunk or so heavily damaged as to be taken out of action. This premature action by the enemy, however, revealed their positions to careful observers. The Navy's big guns went to work on them. One large shore battery was blown out of its casemates and hung over the lip of the cliff like a giant fang blown out of the jaw of a dragon.

The third day was a repeat of the second. The battleships closed to within a mile and a half and their fire was lethal. A large number of enemy emplacements had been destroyed, but the new shelling had revealed dozens more that had been hitherto invisible. Admiral Blandy pleaded for more time. Admiral Turner, however, refused. He felt that the invasion should go as planned on the next day.

On February 19th, it was a bright, clear day. There was action all around the island. Navy planes zoomed in to strafe and bomb. Overhead Superfortresses dropped their deadly loads. The warships and rocket craft thundered away at the coast and the heights of the volcano. Amidst the smoke, explosions and flame, the island of Iwo Jima sat silently, deathlike. Mount Suribachi, like an angry god, scowled from his heights, the grayish black sand of the beaches stood before them in the center, while the jumble of ridges, plateaus and hills were vaguely visible to the north.

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