Okinawa the Last Battle
The various units of the Brigade had returned to our base on Guadalcanal, and were settling down in their assigned areas by late August.
At this time, according to standard procedures, I reverted from the machine gun squad back to company headquarters. I was looking forward to a permanent assignment, where I could contribute to the training and combat efficiency of the company. This came about in early September, when the Sixth Marine Division was activated and organized around the 1st Brigade and the 29th Marines. The First Battalion of that Regiment had been transported to Guadalcanal from Saipan, where it had been attached to the 2nd Division during that operation. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions then arrived from the mainland to complete the organization of that regiment.
Activation of the Division brought another round of re-structuring of the three infantry regiments, and addition of the supporting arms and units required by the Table of Organization for a Marine Division. This, of course, affected all levels of command including the Rifle Companies. This in turn had a direct effect upon my own situation. An assault platoon or section (whatever) was being organized to provide direct support for the rifle platoons at the company level. This unit would include Demolitions Teams, Flamethrower operators and Bazooka Teams. I was placed in charge of this section (because of my training at the Corp school I presume), and reported to the Executive Officer. I do not recall what the organizational requirements were, if any, but the intent was to provide Demolition Teams that were attached to the rifle platoons during combat operations. While the Flamethrower and Bazooka teams would be provided on call.
The Division when activated was over 2000 men under strength, so replacements had to be supplied before serious training could be undertaken. The Raiders in the 4th Marines would as always commit themselves to instilling in the replacements what was needed to make them combat efficient marines. Two of the men assigned to my unit had worked for years in munitions manufacturing plants and were very familiar with explosives. This made my task easier and allowed me to focus on the training of the Flamethrower and Rocket Launcher Teams.
The training schedule for the Division began around 1 October 1945. The program began with the teaching and training of small units and then progressed to Platoon and Company exercises. The co-ordination of tank, infantry and all supporting arms was emphasized as well as rapid deployment and movement. The schedule was comprehensive, strenuous and covered all phases of a large amphibious assault. The training was put to a thorough test in January 1945, when an 8-day Division exercise was conducted. Such endeavors are usually as "screwed up as a Chinese fire drill," as marines say, but that is why they do not panic when things go wrong during an actual assault.
The Division’s training program was completed in early March, and preparations were in full swing to put our training into practice. The combat loading of the Sixth Division for our next missions commenced about 12 March. Prior to this, the Division’s Fort Knox of beer was opened for distribution because we would not be returning to Guadalcanal. Company K received a generous supply, in which hardly a dent had been made when embarkation orders were received. Enterprising Raiders filled numerous sea bags with the surplus, and transported them "clanks" and all to the embarkation area. We were to board an LST, and the Officer of the Deck, suspicious of the sea bags would not permit bringing them aboard. The understanding "Skipper" of the LST, checked the naval regulations that applied, and discovered that the pontoons attached to the ship were classified as docks. That of course was the purpose they would serve after the beach was secured. We were informed that if we would store and drink the beer only on the docks, he would permit us to bring it aboard. We were agreeable to that, and as a further act of kindness they strung a lifeline around the docks. By the time we reached Ulithi Atoll the beer had been consumed, but we had a pleasant journey.
During the voyage to Ulithi we were briefed on the details of our assigned mission. We were to be a part of a large Amphibious Landing Force designated as 10TH Army under the command of Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner. The two major components of 10TH Army were the Third Marine Amphibious Corps and the Army’s 24Th Corps including all attached and supporting units. A brief outline of the 10TH Army’s structure is given below.
10th Army-Lt. Gen. Simon Buckner
Northern Landing Force
3rd Marine Amphibious Corps—Major Gen. Roy S. Geiger
6th Marine Division—Major Gen. Lemeul C. Shepherd
1st Marine Division---Major Gen. Pedro A. del Valle
Southern Landing Force
U S Army 24th Corps---Major Gen. John R. Hodge
7th Infantry Division---Major Gen. Archibald D. Arnold
96th Infantry Division---Major Gen. James L. Bradley
Western Island Attack Group
77th Infantry Division---Major Gen. Andrew D. Bruce
27th Infantry Division---Major Gen. George W. Griner
NOTE: [This personal account will center on the combat activities of the 4TH Marines and particularly Company K, 3RD Battalion. I realize this constitutes a narrow viewpoint but that is the viewpoint of an individual during any combat operation.]
The long journey from Guadalcanal to our staging area gave my section opportunity to discuss and simulate tactical use of their particular weapons. The Demolition teams practiced securing 20-second delay fuses to the 12-inch primer cord extending from the 20-lb. Demolition packs. The packs were made of cloth with a carrying strap that permitted carrying it over the shoulder. Inside, were 10- 2 lb. Blocks of Tetryltral or C-2 explosive. The blocks were strung together, center to center, with primer cord with a short extension to which the delay fuse was secured. The delay fuses looked like a fountain pen. The caps screwed off exposing cap while a pull ring started the timer. The explosives were not dangerous to carry, unlike dynamite; they could only be activated by a detonating cap. The delay fuses however, could be dangerous and had to be carried separated from the explosives until used. The delay fuse had to be attached to the explosives under fire just prior to their use. This required planning and practice by the Demolition teams.
The new M2-2 Flame-throwers were a great improvement but they were temperamental. The use of napalm as fuel increased their range of effectiveness immensely. They were very heavy when loaded, clumsy to carry and difficult to use in combat. The nozzle at the end of the hose had two triggers, one to start the igniter and the other to release the fuel, which was under pressure. Unfortunately, the igniter frequently failed to start, and the operator would release fuel instead of flame. In combat situations, that could be hazardous to your health. The operators needed to remain under cover if possible until he was certain the igniter had fired.
The new M1A1 3.5 Rocket Launcher was also a great improvement over its predecessor. We made sure we all understood how to load and fire the weapon for any of us might have to load or fire the weapon ourselves.
Our Landing Force arrived at the staging area, Ulithi Atol, on 21 March. The next few days were spent for the most part, watching the continuing parade of Carriers, Battleships, Cruisers and smaller ships of every description. The slower ships of the Northern Landing Force departed Ulithi for Okinawa on 25 March, and the faster ships followed two days later. The distance to be covered was about 1400 miles and each day brought an increase in the tension and excitement so peculiar to Amphibious Assaults.
During the six days preceding the assault on Okinawa proper the 77TH Infantry Division seized the group of Islands known as Kerama Retto. Their occupation provided a close in facility for the repair, salvage, rearming and refueling of ships of the fleet. The 420th Field Artillery was also emplaced ashore and registered on targets in southern Okinawa.
During the approach to Okinawa the landing operational plan of 10TH Army was reviewed with all hands. The Sixth Division would go ashore on the left flank of 10TH Army, while the 96TH Infantry would land on the far right on the Hagushi Beaches. The assigned Beaches for the 4TH Marines were as follows.
Third Battalion (3/4) Red One
First Battalion (1/4) Red Two and Three
Second Battalion (2/4) would land later in Division Reserve.
We were also briefed by medical personnel about the danger of eating and other fresh vegetables on the island because human waste was used as fertilizer. The early evening hours of 31 March found Company K resting quietly on the deck and pontoons of our transport LST. Suddenly there was the sharp rattle of a machine gun and the quick rush of an aircraft overhead. Sparks were flying as bullets struck the steel deck. We quickly dove for whatever cover we could find on the crowded deck. Later, when the strafing was not repeated, I raised my head and looked around. In the dark we had sought protection behind 55 gallon drums of gasoline that were stored on the deck. We soon learned from the crew, that a destroyer had quickly put an end to the Japanese plane and pilot.
Long before dawn, 1 April, the largest Amphibious Invasion Force in the history of warfare silently moved into position off the coast of Okinawa. The assault forces and their supports had been transported to the target area from all over the Pacific as well as mainland USA. They came from Hawaii, the Marshalls, the Solomons, the Russells, the New Hebrides, the Mariannas, and the Philippines. The line of supply for this tremendous force extended 6000 miles to its source in the continental United States.
I am not aware of the number of troop transports, LCM’s, LVTA"s, LVT’s, Minesweeper’s and other small ships that were present. However, 10 Battleships, 9 Cruisers, 23 Destroyers, 177 Gunships and a massive assault delivered the pre-landing bombardment by Carrier Aircraft.
Historians and the American public will always consider D-Day to be the greatest amphibious event of World War II. Considering the logistics and distances covered by all the participating forces, I hold a different viewpoint.
During all the planning and preparation for the invasion of Okinawa, American Intelligence had never uncovered the Japanese operational plan for defense of the Island. Upcoming events would prove that Lt. Gen. Mitsuru Ushijima, who was observing the landing from Shuri Heights, had a very simple plan. To utilize his superb defense network to make southern Okinawa a huge morgue. He would not discriminate; for anybody and every body would be welcome, even himself.