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The Last Lieutenant (Excerpt, Chapter 5)

The Last Lieutenant (Excerpt, Chapter 5)

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Jim Craig was a platoon commander with the Marines on Iwo Jima. This book presents his story, as told to his nephew, John C. Shively. A particularly vivid and exciting account of some of the most intense fighting of the Pacific War, the immediacy of the story is heightened by the detail that Shively’s research has added to Craig’s recollections. The result is one of the most realistic depictions of combat ever written.
Jim Craig was a platoon commander with the Marines on Iwo Jima. This book presents his story, as told to his nephew, John C. Shively. A particularly vivid and exciting account of some of the most intense fighting of the Pacific War, the immediacy of the story is heightened by the detail that Shively’s research has added to Craig’s recollections. The result is one of the most realistic depictions of combat ever written.

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Published by: Indiana University Press on Mar 11, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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5
 Welcome to Hell
 War loves to seek its victims in the young.—Sophocles
In the early dawn of 19 February 1945, the 485-ship armada carrying the
Fifth Amphibious Corps (VAC)—more than 70,000 Marines from the 3rd,
4th, and 5th Divisions—arrived off the coast of Iwo Jima. The plannerscould not have picked a better day for the invasion. The weather was idealwith a seven-knot breeze, a few scattered clouds, and relatively calm seasso that the invasion boats could land on the preferred east beaches. Jimhad been notied earlier that the alternate plan to land on the west side of the island, in which his platoon was to seize the little island of KangokuRock, was not necessary. He and his men would land with the rest of thebattalion.Jim and Ed Cavalini woke up around 4:00  after a tful sleep to thebooming sound of the big naval guns shelling the island. Since the 24thMarines were held in regimental reserve, Jim did not have to do anythingspecial that morning. He and Ed had their usual breakfast of scrambledeggs and bacon in the ofcers’ mess.They then went up on deck to watch the unfolding invasion prepara-tions. Jim was greeted by a cacophony of deafening blasts as the big gunsred salvo after salvo at the island. It was still dark, so the yellow blasts fromthe naval guns silhouetted the ships of the armada and the island againstthe horizon in a momentary, ghostlike spectacle. He was mesmerized bythis otherworldly tableau. As the sun rose, the outline of the island gradually became more dis-tinct. Jim’s rst impression was that it was an ugly island, especially afterthe beauty of Hawaii. He found the shelling and explosions somehow reas-
 
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 The Last Lieutenant 
suring as he watched smoke rise from hundreds of exploding rounds on the
beaches. It was an impressive display of naval might. Surely, he thought,nobody on the island could possibly survive such a brutal pounding. Hewent so far as to speculate that the Navy would end up doing the job forhim and that this would be a short campaign with few casualties. At 0630 Vice Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner gave the order to land,raising the curtain on the bloodiest and most famous campaign in MarineCorps history. Jim watched in awe as wave upon wave of landing craftbearing the invasion force churned through the water to the beaches justbehind the rolling barrage of naval gunre. Following the bombardment,carrier-based planes ew in low, strang the beaches with machine gunsand rockets. When the planes had cleared the skies, the Navy openedre again with another punishing bombardment to further soften up thebeaches just as the landing craft were approaching.
Iwo Jima Beach Defenses
Responsibility for the defense of Iwo Jima was given to Lt. Gen. TadamichiKuribayashi, a 53-year-old combat veteran of the Manchurian campaign.He had been handpicked by Emperor Hirohito himself. This assignmentcarried a heavy burden, for Kuribayashi knew that if Iwo Jima fell to the Americans, the Japanese Home Islands would inevitably fall. He thereforepledged to the emperor that he would defend Iwo Jima to the death.Early in the war, Japanese commanders had tried to defeat landings onthe beaches as Marines poured ashore, when they were most vulnerable.In every case, they failed. The Japanese defenders had been cut down likea scythe by overwhelming naval gunre. So in May 1944, Col. NaoyukiKuzumi, charged with the defense of the island of Biak northwest of NewGuinea, chose not to defend the beaches against MacArthur’s soldiers.Instead, he conceded the beaches from the outset and holed up in cave-poked hills and gorges, there to chew up the soldiers in a battle of attrition. As a result, the island held out for three months and Japanese generals onSaipan and Peleliu resolved to follow the colonel’s example. In each case,the Marine Corps still defeated the Japanese, but at a tremendous cost in
casualties. Based on this experience, Kuribayashi chose to defend Iwo Jimain the same way.
1
Since he could not stop the Marines, he decided to extract
from them such a high price in blood that they might think twice aboutinvading the Home Islands. He, too, would ght a battle of attrition.Kuribayashi also had the benet of the lessons learned by the Germans
who were unable to defeat the American landings on the Normandy beach-
es the previous year. They, too, had tried to stop the landings at the water’s
 
 Welcome to Hell | 45
edge and had failed. In previous island campaigns in the South Pacic, theMarines had perfected amphibious tactics and despite enormous casualties
had succeeded in taking one island after another in a series of campaignsthat brought them ever closer to Japan.Kuribayashi was determined not to squander his limited resources de-fending the beaches with suicidal counterattacks. He planned to hold outfrom heavily fortied static defensive positions for as long as he could. Tothis end he constructed underground bunkers connected by a network of tunnels throughout the island. Designed by some of Japan’s best miningengineers, these tunnels were craftily concealed and capable of withstand-ing all but a direct hit from a heavy caliber shell. He distributed his men,ammunition, food, and water so that no movement above ground wouldbe necessary once the attack began.
Heavily fortied underground defensive positions covered both the east
and west landing beaches and the terraces inland by direct re. Similarly
fortied positions dug into the slopes of Mount Suribachi had a command-
ing view of the beaches all the way to the East Boat Basin just northeast of 
beach Blue 2. These positions consisted of artillery pieces and large mortars
that could enlade the landing craft approach lanes offshore, the entireeastern beach, and the terraces inland all the way to the two airelds.The ground inland from the beaches between the airelds and north of the beaches was heavily fortied and protected by large mineelds. These
commanding positions provided direct observation of the beaches and
preregistered artillery, mortar, and rocket re over the entire beachhead.Direct re missions between the beaches and the airelds would continuefrom these positions until individually captured or destroyed. There wasno part of the landing beaches, the steeply sloped terraces, and the atground between the airelds that was not covered. Additionally, there wasno natural cover to protect the advancing Marines. In the face of horricre, they would have to advance over a at lunar landscape of volcanicash and rock.
 While he stood on the deck, leaning against the rail, Jim listened asreports started coming in over the public address system. The initial waveshad landed on the beaches unopposed. Within a short time several thou-sand Marines were safely ashore. It was eerily quiet. Jim took heart at thisnews. Maybe this was not going to be so tough after all. He did not know ityet, but the Japanese were so well dug in that the shells had not degradedthe defensive positions as hoped.

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