30. Iwo Jima

"Millington led a flight of 24 F4Us to support the landings on Iwo Jima."

Frustration on D-Day--February 19, 1945

Immediately after the Tokyo strikes, Task Force 38 moved south to support the invasion of Iwo Jima. We used the time en route for refueling the destroyers. Routine antisub and combat air patrols were launched for daytime fleet coverage.

In keeping with the new security policy, most of us were not informed of the date and time for the invasion of Iwo Jima. However, we had practiced close support tactics in anticipation of any scheduled assault. Complete briefings on Iwo were provided on the evening of February 18. Before dawn on D-Day, the Essex had moved into position--about 75 miles NW of Iwo--for our support assignment. (1)

As luck would have it, the weather turned foul. It was so bad that our torpedo planes could not be launched. The best we could do was to provide fighter coverage.

At H-Hour minus 45 minutes, one close support mission was finally able to take off in spite of the treacherous weather, and dispatched to Iwo. This flight, led by Lt Col Millington, consisted of 24 F4Us and 24 F6Fs. (Lt L. M. Boykin was the secondary leader for the VF-4 Hellcats.) The assignment was to "attack flanks and high ground along the flank of the landing beaches from H-45 to H-35 with Napalm, rockets and strafing." In addition, the support group was to strafe the beaches just ahead of the landings from H-5 to H-2. A portion of the strike report follows: (2)

"The flight was split into two elements for the flank attacks with 12 F4Us with Napalm and 12 F6Fs with Napalm and rockets on each flank. The attacks were delivered from a double column approach with divisions breaking to port and starboard as assigned dropping Napalms on the first run, pulling out to seaward and repeating attacks with rockets and strafing until the time limit expired."

The Corsairs and Hellcats were then rendezvoused at Point William at 9000 feet to await orders for the H-5 strafing attack along the landing beaches.

"These attacks were delivered (at 0845) from south to north in steep dives, all planes pulling up sharply to the right to rejoin the tail element for repeated runs. The attack was moved landward as the landing craft approached the beach in order to maintain the bullet impact area 200 yards from the boats. The bullet impact area was shifted 500 yards inland as the boats hit the beach. Naval and other gunfire in the same area necessitated pull-outs at 600 feet."

Millington reported that the coordination was excellent and timing right on: "Only minimum small arms and machine-gun tracers could be seen emanating from the base of Mt. Suribachi, and from the higher ground on the starboard flank." Millington also reported in the debriefing that:

"Ships gunfire was extremely accurate and effective as to full coverage. One machine gun position on Mt. Suribachi and one automatic or dual-purpose gun were seen to receive direct hits from large naval shells."

The returning VF group stated that about 50 percent of the Napalm bombs failed to explode and burn. Also, there were hangups with some of the rockets. But, all-in-all, the pilots were pleased with the apparent effectiveness of the support mission.

"The attack had been carefully planned and rehearsed once at sea, and again at Guam on the way to Iwo Jima. The briefing of the group by the Command Air Support Control Unit while at ULITHI was excellent. It impressed upon pilots the importance of their mission in supporting the landing forces, and inspired them with a determination to carry out missions well. Coordination and timing were excellent, and no difficulty was encountered in using the two type VF in the strafing attacks."

After the VF and VMF planes returned to the Essex the bad weather prevented further launches. The Marines were now battling for every inch of land on Iwo. We could do no more to help them on this first day. Kyle Palmer, a Times War Correspondent,who was riding in one of our VT-4 Avengers, described the situation on D-day in his article under the headline: "MARINES` FLAMING HELL ON IWO DESCRIBED BY `TIMES` WRITER:"

" For three hours today, as Lt P. P. Stephens of Springfield, Ill. piloted our plane around and across the fiery hell below, we watched an endless stream of landing craft rush up reinforcements and supplies. Landing was difficult, and the black sand under the pounding preinvasion shelling was soft and spongy…. Nevertheless, without hesitation, men, guns, ammunition and supplies were moved ashore"

That night Charlie Statler recorded in his journal: (3)

"Tonight at 1920, the ship went to GQ; 9 enemy planes were approaching at 14 - 20 miles; 2 were shot down; others returned. GQ over at 2050."

Continued Support for the Invasion

On February 20, the ship was "refueling, rearming, and receiving replacement aircraft in area about 100 miles SW of Iwo Jima." (1) On the 21st, we again launched strikes against Iwo Jima, Haha Jima, and Chichi Jima. Statler reported: (3)

"Our planes flew nite sub patrol. Very cold tonight. G.Q. sounded at 1920. We were attacked by 3 or more enemy planes. None came in closer than 6 miles. G.Q. was over at 2050. Saratoga was hit by 4 Banzi Boys. Headed south."

During the fighter sweeps on Chichi Jima, G. A. Peabody destroyed a Jill and F. J. Dailey damaged a Tojo. The VF and VMF also strafed the airfields and attacked shipping in Futami Ko. (4)

Far to the north of us, another carrier group was conducting strikes on Kobe, Japan, when the Franklin was attacked by kamikazes. A total of 772 men aboard the ship were killed, and the Navy awarded its first Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism to a Chaplain, Lt Cdr Joseph T. O'Callahan. (5)

February 22 was cool and cloudy with heavy rains. "Eleven VT were launched at 1230 to hit Iwo Jima. Failed to hit target due to very bad visibility." (3) I was not with the strike group, but was sent out on a 3 - 4 hour antisub patrol. My visibility was very limited, but I stayed with the search. When I returned to the Fleet I had trouble finding the Essex.

"Buck" Barnett was flying one of the TBMs sent out to support the Iwo Jima landings. He reported that the weather was so bad, "We couldn't even see our wing tips. We were flying around the fleet counterclockwise trying to avoid each other and the ships. I barely got a glimpse of Mt. Suribachi." (6)

Stan Coller was manning the turret gun for Ensign W. J. Hopkins. "Suddenly, I saw this shadow come over. I ducked as our antenna was clipped off by another plane. That was close! A few years later, back on the farm, I was plowing when a crow flew over. The shadow made me duck, and I hit the knob on the tractor steering wheel. I had a big sore lip for a few days, but the recall back to Iwo Jima was very vivid." (7)

The next day, February 23, the Carrier Task Force left the Iwo Jima area "heading toward Tokyo."

Mount Suribachi was finally taken by the Marines on February 23, 1945, but Iwo Jima was not secured until May 16. "The battle of Iwo Jima had cost the lives of 4,554 Marines and 363 Navy men. Of the 21,000 Japanese defenders, little more than 3000 were alive." (8)

Photo: Avenger En Route to Japanese Mainland.

(1) USS Essex Ship's Log. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(2) Combat Reports, VF-4, VMF 124, and VMF 213. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(3) Statler, C. C., VT-4 Crewman. Personal Journal.
(4) VF-4. The Red Rippers. A History of Fighting Four assembled by members of the Squadron in 1945. U.S. Navy.
(5) Goralski, Robert. 1981. World War II Almanac, 1931 - 1945. Perigee Books.
(6) Taped Interview with G. M. Barnett, VT-4 Crewman.
(7) Taped Interview with Stan Coller, VT-4 Crewman.
(8) Toland, J. 1971. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire. Bantam Books.

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Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II
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