Although the island of Iwo Jima had been Japanese territory since 1891, after the capture of Saipan and Tinian in July 1944, it had become increasingly problematic. Saipan and Tinian served as bases from which to launch B-29 raids against the Japanese mainland. Unfortunately, the aircraft had to pass by Iwo Jima going to the targets in Japan and on the return flight. This gave the Japanese an early warning system, as raids headed for the home islands could be detected.
Additionally, fighter aircraft stationed on Iwo Jima were in an excellent position to intercept B-29s both on the outgoing and return trips. As a result, Army Air Force missions gave the island a wide berth by requiring the bombers to carry more fuel and smaller payloads. The elimination of Iwo Jima as a functioning Japanese base was therefore desirable, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff began planning its capture in late 1944. In addition to eliminating the threat of the Japanese interfering with B-29 raids, the island could also be used as an emergency landing strip for aircraft damaged over Japan. It was also thought that long range fighters could be stationed there to accompany the B-29s to Japan.
The importance of Iwo Jima to the Americans was obvious to the Japanese and, on 27 May 1944, Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kurabayashi was given command of the 109th Division. The division had the responsibility of defending the Bonin Islands, known to the Japanese as the Ogasawara Islands. This group was considered a part of the Japanese home islands in that it was a part of metropolitan Tokyo and included Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima. Kurabayashi arrived on Iwo Jima between 8 and 10 June 1944. He correctly deduced that Iwo Jima would be targeted by the Americans because of its airfields. Accordingly, he set about bolstering the island’s defenses.
Japanese strategy at the time called for the annihilation of enemy forces at water’s edge to prevent a landing from gaining a foothold. Kurabayashi recognized that overwhelming naval gunfire and supporting air strikes would make such a defense impossible. He determined that an underground series of tunnels and interconnected bunkers would provide the best possible chance to defend the island. Guns and mortars in fortified positions were zeroed in on specific areas of the landing beaches so that once ashore, the invading force would be easy prey. By the time of the American landings, the Japanese force defending the island had grown to 21,000 men. It was not a part of Kurabayashi’s strategy to drive the Americans away; he knew that he faced overwhelming military superiority. His strategy would be to slow the American advance and bleed them as much as possible. Once Iwo Jima fell, it would hasten and intensify the attacks on Japan.
Leading the U.S. Marine invasion force was Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith (CG of Expeditionary Troops TF 56). Under Smith was Major General Harry Schmidt, Commanding General of the V Amphibious Corps. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions were commanded by Major General Graves B. Erskine, Major General Clifton B. Cates, and Major General Keller E. Rockey, respectively.
The task facing the Marines was obvious and Major General Schmidt requested a ten day naval bombardment prior to the landing of the assault force. Having other responsibilities, the Navy allowed a three day bombardment period. The attack on Iwo Jima was assigned to Task Expeditionary Force 51 under Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner. His force included nine battleships, eight heavy cruisers, five light cruisers, seven escort carriers and thirty-one destroyers. In addition to the larger warships, TF 51 also included an Amphibious Support Force under Rear Admiral W. H. P. Blandy. The amphibious gunboats were assigned to this force.
Task Units 52.5.1 (LCI(G)s 450, 466, 469, 471, 473, 474, LCI(FF) 627) under Commander Michael J. Malanaphy, and Task Unit 52.5.2 (LCI(G)s 346, 348, 438, 441, 449, 457) under Lieutenant Commander W. V. Nash, would be the first ships in action at Iwo Jima and the first ships to suffer under enemy fire. They had departed from Saipan on 13 February 1945 and arrived at Iwo Jima on 17 February. Their assignment was to cover Underwater Demolition Team activities along the beach. TU 52.5.1 was assigned to Red Beach One and TU 52.5.2 was assigned to Yellow Beach One.
Practice for the invasion of Iwo Jima took place at various locations. Here a group of LCI(G)s practices rocket fire at Kahoolawe, Hawaii, on 17 January 1945. Commander Amphibious Forces Pacific—Commander Fifth Amphibious Force Serial 212, General Action Report of COMPHIBSPAC—Capture of Iwo Jima, Volume 2 of 2 Volumes, 23 March 1945.
Gunboats covering UDT operations on 17 February 1945 came under heavy shore fire with the result that all seven of the original gunboats were put out of action, along with five of their relief gunboats. One of them, LCI(G) 474, was sunk.
Commander Michael J. Malanaphy, shown here post-war as a Rear Admiral, was the commanding officer of LCI(G) Flotilla Three which covered the UDT at Iwo Jima. The ships under his command all were awarded Presidential Unit Citations. Malanaphy and the commanding officers of the gunboats under him were each awarded the Navy Cross. He went on to serve with distinction at Guam and Okinawa. Official U.S. Navy photograph.
The battle for Iwo Jima was costly in the extreme for the U.S. Marines, but it was also costly for the amphibious gunboats. The problem arose from a misinterpretation on the part of the Japanese defenders who mistakenly identified the LCI(G)s covering UDT operations as troop carriers.
The assault on Iwo Jima required reconnaissance of the landing areas prior to the actual assault. Marine Reconnaissance Units from the Scout and Sniper Platoons, 4th and 5th Divisions and VAC Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, FMFPAC and Underwater Demolition Teams 12, 13, 14, and 15 were assigned the task of reconnoitering the beaches and destroying obstacles. These teams of underwater warriors had been training in Hawaii and then moved to Ulithi for further training. Between 3 and 6 February 1945, the teams practiced and trained at Ulithi then headed for Saipan to rendezvous with other elements of the Iwo Jima assault force. On 17 February the UDTs on board Bates APD 47 (UDT 12 ), Barr APD 39 (UDT 13), Bull APD 76 (UDT 14), and Blessman APD 48 (UDT 15) arrived off Iwo Jima. Covering their operations was Fire-support Unit (TU 52.4.21) under Captain Hunter. This task unit was further divided into three sections, each containing two to three destroyers and three to four LCI(G)s. Fire-support Unit Able (TU 52.4.21) under Captain Hunter, had Capps DD 550, Leutze DD 481, Henley DD 762, and LCI(G)s 450, 466, 473, and 474. Fire-support Unit Baker (TU 52.4.22) under Captain Conley, consisted of Bryant DD 665 and Twiggs DD 591, along with LCI(G)s 438, 449, and 471, while Fire-support Unit Charlie (TU 52.4.23) under Captain Martin, was made up of Hall DD 583, Paul Hamilton DD 590and LCI(G)s 441, 457, and 469. In company with the three task units were LCI(G)s 346 and 348, which were held in reserve and LCI(FF) 627 with Commander Michael J. Malanaphy aboard. Malanaphy had overall command of the gunboats.1
LCI(G)s 438, 474, and 450 move toward the beaches at Iwo Jima to cover UDT operations on 17 February 1945. During the coverage, all three ships were hit by Japanese shore batteries. LCI(G) 474 was sunk and 438 and 450 sustained damage and casualties. NARA 80G 307117.
The preferred landing beaches, Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue, were on the eastern side of the island, while Orange, White, Brown, and Purple beaches were on the west. The eastern beaches were due for reconnaissance and clearing in the morning, and the western beaches were scheduled for the afternoon. Seven of the LCI(G)s covered the morning operations with three held in reserve to replace them if necessary. The task units’ destroyers maintained station 3,000 yards off the beach for supporting fire as needed. The assignments were as follows:
Lieutenant Rufus Herring (far right) receives the Medal of Honor from Secretary of the Navy Forrestal. Photographs of Herring are almost non-existent and part of this original photograph was blacked out behind Herring’s head for use in other publicity releases. Naval History and Heritage Command NH 104043.
The destroyers and gunboats began moving into position about 0800 as LCI(G)s 438, 441, 449, 450, 457, 473, and 474(GF) began their maneuvers. By 0920 they were five hundred yards off Mount Surabachi and heading north to a point 3,500 yards off the beaches. At 1030 they turned and headed for the shore, passing through the line of destroyers. The destroyers, now seaward of the gunboats, began firing on shore positions. At 1048 the LCI(G)s were about 2,000 yards off shore and began taking fire, which they immediately returned. At this point the UDT teams on board the LCP(R)s began to drop off their men for the swim in to the beaches. In spite of the heavy shore fire, the LCI(G)s headed for the thousand yard line in order to fire their rockets, but it was not to be. Between 1058 and 1105, all seven of the LCI(G)s were hit. At 1048, both LCI(G 449 and 474were fired upon, but the incoming rounds were near misses. This changed within minutes. While covering UDT 14 on Yellow Beach 1, LCI(G) 449 was hit by a shell on her bow, killing two men, blowing two overboard, and wounding two more. A few minutes later she took another incoming round on her port 40mm gun and then a third on the starboard side of her conning tower, killing and wounding a number of her crew.2The CO of the 449, Lieutenant (jg) Rufus G. Herring, was severely injured by this shell. Herring was blown out of the conning tower and landed on the deck below. Enemy fire from the beach hit him again, but he propped himself up against some shell casings and continued commanding his ship. Eventually his strength ran out. With all of the other 449’s officers wounded or killed, Ensign L. Bedell took command. With the able assistance of Boatswain’s Mate Frank Blow, Bedell directed the ship back to safety. Bedell was awarded the Silver Star and Blow the Bronze Star for their actions.3 The highest award that day went to the CO of the ship, Lieutenant (jg) Rufus G. Herring, who received the Medal of Honor. His citation read:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of LCI(G) 449 operating as a unit of LCI(G) Group EIGHT during the pre-invasion attack on Iwo Jima on 17 February 1945. Boldly closing the strongly fortified shores under the devastating fire of Japanese coastal defense guns, Lieutenant (then Lieutenant, Junior Grade,)
Herring directed shattering barrages of 40-mm. and 20-mm. gunfire against hostile beaches until struck down by the enemy’s savage counter fire which blasted the 449’s heavy guns and whipped her decks into sheets of flame. Regaining consciousness despite profuse bleeding he was again critically wounded when a Japanese mortar crashed the conning station, instantly killing or fatally wounding most of the officers and leaving the ship wallowing without navigational control. Upon recovering the second time, Lieutenant Herring resolutely climbed down to the pilot house and, fighting against his rapidly waning strength, took over the helm, established communication with the engine room and carried on valiantly until relief could be obtained. When no longer able to stand, he propped himself against empty shell cases and rallied his men to the aid of the wounded; he maintained position on the firing line with his 20-mm. guns in action in the face of sustained enemy fire and conned his crippled ship to safety. His unwavering fortitude, aggressive perseverance and indomitable spirit against terrific odds reflect the highest credit upon Lieutenant Herring and uphold the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.4
LCI(G) 449 alongside Terror CM 5 at Iwo Jima on 17 February 1945. Her commanding officer, Lieutenant (jg) Rufus G. Herring, was awarded the Medal of Honor and the ship was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation. Casualties are evident in the photograph. NH 65317.
The fire support plan for Yellow Beaches 1 and 2 was similar to many UDT coverage assignments undertaken by the gunboats. Boats 1, 2, and 4 were LCVPs carrying UDT swimmers to their mission. Covering them with close-in fire support wereLCI(G)s 438 and 449. To seaward were the destroyers Twiggs and Bryant, which lent heavier firepower to the coverage. LCI(G) 471 stood by as a reserve gunboat in case it was needed. From Commander Underwater Demolition Team No. 14, Serial 02-45, Action Report of UDT #14 in the Iwo Jima Operation—16th February to 1 March 1945, 1 March 1945, Enclosure D.
UDT 14 was assigned just south of LCI(G) 449 to Yellow Beach 1, and LCI(G) 438 drew the assignment to cover its operations. As she headed for her station, the commander of UDT 14 came aboard. As she neared her firing position and began her beach bombardment, she took a hit on her starboard waterline from a large shell estimated at 197mm. The area began to flood and the ship began to list to starboard. The Commander of UDT 14, Lieutenant A. B. Onderdonk, ordered the ship to retire as several mortar shells exploded nearby and small arms fire hit the ship. With her list, the ship could only make about four knots but made it to safety. LCI(G) 471 was sent in to relieve the 438 and Onderdonk transferred over to the replacement.5
LCI(G) 474, hit by shore fire at Iwo Jima as she covered Underwater Demolition Team 12, had to be abandoned. With no hope of saving her, she was sunk by gunfire from Capps DD 550. Her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant (jg) Matthew J. Reichl, was awarded the Navy Cross and the ship was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation. NARA 80G 303818.
At about the same time that LCI(G) 449 was hit, LCI(G) 474, covering UDT 12 at Red Beach 2, was also hit. Within the next five minutes she took a total of ten enemy shells. All of her guns were put out of commission, four of her compartments were flooded, and three fires blazed out of control. Ammunition clips for the 40mm and 20mm guns were ignited by the flames, adding to the carnage. Her most serious damage was caused by two shells which struck at her waterline on the port side causing instant flooding. These holes measured three to four feet in diameter. With the ship beginning to settle, her CO headed her back to Capps where her eighteen wounded men were transferred. The 474 then cast off from Capps and the destroyer moved away. At that point the gunboat was listing heavily to starboard and her CO, Lieutenant (jg) Matthew J. Reichl, gave the order to abandon ship. This was reinforced by the Commander Destroyer Squadron 46 who was on board Capps. The LCI(G) 474 stayed afloat almost on its beam ends. At 1230 Reichl headed for his ship with four volunteers in a small boat to determine if there was any way to save her. As they approached the ship it rolled over, its bottom barely above the surface. With no hope for his ship, Reichl returned to Capps which sank the gunboat with 40mm shells at 1400. It was only 3,000 yards from the beach. The three crewmen killed in the action went down with the ship.6
Immediately to the south at Red Beach 1, LCI(G) 450 was hit at 1112. Several large caliber shells impacted her forecastle, disabling the bow gun and starting fires which threatened her forward magazine. It was flooded to save the ship, and she was ordered to leave her station to seek aid. She suffered six wounded.
LCI(G) 441 comes alongside Nevada BB 36 to transfer her wounded. She was hit by Japanese artillery at Iwo Jima on 17 February 1945. NARA 80G 307124.
LCI(G) 441 transfers her casualties to Nevada BB 36 on 17 February 1945. NARA 80G 303786.
In the midst of all of this, UDT operations had begun at about 1100. By that time the LCI(G)s were already in trouble, many having been hit by fire from shore batteries. Lieutenant (jg) Donald Murray, a member of the UDT, recalled: “The fire from shore was unmerciful. Bullets rained down on the swimmers. Eight inch shells were decimating the LCI(G)s.”7 LCI(G)s 441, 450, and 473 managed to get close enough to fire off their rockets before being hit. The others, damaged by shore fire, were unable to fire off complete salvos.
Beach reconnaissance fell to a combined force of Navy UDT and Marine Scouts and Raiders. The UDT members and Marine reconnaissance swimmers were scheduled to swim ashore, chart the bottom, look for mines and obstacles, and return to their pickup boat. On board the LCVP pickup boat, Marine reconnaissance members would run parallel to the shore photographing any items of interest, such as obstacles and enemy gun emplacements near shore. While the swimmers in the water dodged sniper fire, the Marines in the LCVP had other concerns. “The Japanese fired at them continually, using light mortars, machine guns, and rifle fire as well as the very devastating antiboat guns from their concealed positions. The close splashes and water plumes of the Japanese antiboat guns and mortars, sometimes bracketing their craft, gave everyone a great deal of concern.”8
Ensign Frank Jirka, Jr., was a member of UDT 12 assigned to cover the Red beaches along with selected members of First Lieutenant Russell Corey’s B Company, FMF Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion. They had completed their mission and looked for their supporting LCI(G) to see if they could assist in identifying enemy targets. They searched for their ship but it was not there. LCI(G) 466 had replaced it and was covering operations on the Green beaches. Along with a Marine captain and two other Marines, Jirka boarded the LCI(G) 466. He later recalled:
We decided to go aboard and try to spot our gunfire from it. We came alongside and the four of us climbed aboard. I went up to the bridge, told them what I was there for and what team I represented. I was standing at the time, on the after port side of the bridge, but since the forward gun’s smoke was obstructing my view, I moved to the forward starboard side. I no sooner moved over when our ship, which was around l700 yards off the beach and slowly moving in, almost got hit.
I said to the captain that it looks like we’re getting in pretty close, when the next thing I knew I was flat on the deck, wounded. I tried to stand but was unable to do so. Since I was not suffering from any pain I looked down to see just why I was unable to stand. It was then that I noticed a pair of blown up feet at right angles to my body, without shoes or stockings. I thought surely those couldn’t be mine for I was wearing shoes when I came aboard. Then I suddenly felt a painful drawing sensation and upon noticing carefully found that those mangled pieces of skin and bone were all that was left of my good nine and a half C’s. I then crawled to the after end of the bridge, for the spot that I was standing on was no longer there. I asked for some morphine and gave myself a shot.9
LCI(G) 457, covering UDT 15 on Blue Beach 2, moved into her covering station 2,000 yards off the beach and began firing her 20mm and 40mm guns at targets along the shore and behind the east boat basin. At 1055 the Japanese began ranging in their mortars. Several fell about seventy yards ahead of the ship and the gunboat began evasive maneuvers. At 1101 the ship fired her ranging rockets but found them about 200 yards short. Two minutes later mortar fire bracketed the ship and one round exploded about a foot off the port side, opening a three by four foot hole and flooding her forward compartment. Machine gun fire raked the ship from bow to stern with a number of rounds striking the rocket launchers and disabling them. With a number of men wounded and most of her guns and rocket launchers out of commission, the ship was relieved by LCI(G) 469 and her CO, Lieutenant (jg) Jerome J. O’Dowd, headed her to Gilmer APD 11 to transfer casualties. She had suffered twenty-one wounded, twelve of whom were serious, with one who later died. Gilmer took them on board and the ship tied up to Tennessee BB 43 to have her damage surveyed. With the prognosis indicating that she would remain afloat, she reported to Terror CM5 for additional help pumping out her forward compartments.10
Just south of LCI(G) 457, LCI(G) 441 was also covering UDT 15 on Blue Beach 1. At 1050 she opened fire on the shore area with 20mm and 40mm guns. A few minutes later an LCVP came alongside and two observers came aboard, one from UDT 15 and one from the Marines. The gunboat proceeded to within a thousand yards of the beach and began laying down covering fire for the UDT swimmers when she was hit in her galley area by a five inch shell. While her men battled the fires in the galley and surrounding area, she launched her rockets. As she turned to pull away from the beach, another shell struck her on the starboard side of the main deck. Within a few minutes her crew had the fires out and the ship zig-zagged back toward her station. As she maneuvered, small caliber machine gun fire splashed in the water, but no damage or casualties occurred. The 441 was able to continue firing on shore targets but, at 1125, her No. 1 40mm gun failed, and fifteen minutes later her No. 2 40mm also suffered a break-down. At 1143 a mortar shell struck the forecastle area abaft the No. 1 gun position and Commander Malanaphy ordered the ship to retire from the area. As her CO, Lieutenant (jg) Forrest W. Bell, gave the order for his ship to withdraw, it was hit by another shell on the starboard side of the gun deck, injuring a number of men and damaging her steering. The ship began to circle and at times was only 300 yards off the beach. A near miss by another shell sent water cascading over the decks and extinguished a fire in the aft part of the ship. At 1155 still another shell exploded on the ship a couple of feet above the water line. As they neared the terminal range of the shore batteries, two more shells fell just short of the transom and the gunboat made it into safe water. She tied up to Nevada BB 36 and transferred her wounded men for treatment. The ship had survived, but she had six dead and twenty-seven wounded.11
At Green Beach, LCI(G) 473 was covering the operations of UDT 13 when she came under fire at 1055. She was on station about 2,000 yards off the beach strafing suspected enemy emplacements when a five or six inch shell struck her starboard side on the main deck causing fifteen casualties. Another shell hit her gun deck, disrupting power to her port generator and switchboard and knocking out her steering. While under emergency steering from her stern station, she was hit by another shell in the same location and suffered additional casualties. The gunboat continued toward shore and launched her rockets at 1,000 yards. They struck the beach area about 200 yards inland. At this close range she was in great peril and, as she turned to move back out, she was struck by two five inch shells on her port waterline. The first opened a three by four foot hole and the second knocked out her engines. Adrift and in range of enemy guns, she was saved when LCI(FF) 627 took her under tow and LCI(G) 466 relieved her. The line parted, but she had enough headway to drift out of range of the shore fire. A number of shells struck the water about 100 yards behind her but she had escaped. She had managed to drift close enough to Twiggs DD 591 and was able to transfer eleven of her seriously wounded men. LCI(L) 627 again took her under tow and pulled her to safety.12 She suffered thirty-one wounded and one dead. For LCI(G) 473 the battle for Iwo Jima was over.
Shortly after noon, the LCI(G)s had all been pulled out of the action and spent the next few hours transferring wounded, burying their dead at sea, and making what repairs they could. Fortunately for them, the 455 foot minelayer Terror CM5 had been assigned to the area as a repair and supply ship. As the gunboats became damaged, they headed to Terror for assistance. The first to tie up to her was LCI(G) 449 which transferred seventeen dead and twenty wounded, two of whom died later that day. Emergency repairs were made to the ship and she was soon back in action. LCI(G)s 438, 457, 469, and 473 with LCI(FF) 627 followed closely behind, transferring dead and wounded and receiving emergency repairs so that they could rejoin the action. By the end of the day, Terror’s crew had buried at sea those killed in action on the gunboats.13
February 17 had been costly for the ships. The combined death toll for the LCI(G)s was forty-seven, with three missing in action and presumed dead. Another 148 had been wounded in action. Casualties among three of the UDT teams during the beach action were not heavy. UDT 12 reported one missing and one wounded, UDT 13 had no casualties, and UDT 14 had one killed and two wounded. The most serious losses to the UDTs came at 2120 when UDT 15 was back aboard Blessman having lunch. A Japanese plane made an attack and its bomb pierced Blessman’s deck and exploded in the mess area. UDT 15 reported sixteen men dead, two missing, and twenty-three wounded.14 With the gunboats essentially out of action, the UDT teams had to rely on fire from larger ships to cover them as they reconnoitered the western beaches in the afternoon. Tuscaloosa CA 37, Arkansas BB 33, Texas BB 35, and Tennessee BB 43 supplied close fire support and the destroyers fired white phosphorus shells to mask the UDT movements.
The action of the LCI(G) gunboats was inspirational to everyone who watched. Captain B. Hall Hanlon, Commander Underwater Demolition Teams, Amphibious forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet reported:
It is the opinion of this command that LCI(G) Flotilla THREE made Naval history and added a fine page to our Naval tradition during its support of the Underwater Demolition Teams on the morning of DOG minus TWO [17 February 1945] at IWO JIMA. This is not based alone on their original going in to the 1000 yard line on a very hazardous mission, but on the fact that these ships remained at their stations until either all guns were knocked out, fires were out of control, or the ship was sinking. Under those circumstances, and only under those, did they retire from the line, and then making such temporary repairs as were essential, they returned to the firing line.15
Bravery of this sort was not to go unnoticed. In addition to the Medal of Honor awarded to Lieutenant (jg) Rufus G. Herring, CO of the LCI(G) 449, the following commanding officers received the Navy Cross:
Lieutenant Forrest W. Bell LCI(G) 441
Lieutenant (jg) Wallace A. Brady LCI(G) 450
Lieutenant Charles E. Fisher LCI(G) 473
Lieutenant Gerald M. Connors LCI(G) 469
Lieutenant (jg) Harry L. Gruver LCI(G) 346
Lieutenant James J. Horovitz LCI(G) 466
Commander Michael J. Malanaphy Comdr LCI(G) Flotilla Three on LCI(FF) 627
Lieutenant Commander Willard V. Nash CTU 52.5.2 on LCI(G) 457
Lieutenant (jg) Jerome J. O’Dowd CO LCI(G) 457
Lieutenant (jg) Bernard J. Powers LCI(G) 438
Lieutenant (jg) Matthew J. Reichl LCI(G) 474
Lieutenant (jg) Alvin E. Rosenbloom LCI(G) 348
Lieutenant (jg) Robert S. Hudgins LCI(G) 471
Navy Unit Commendations were awarded to LCI(G)s 346, 348, 438, 441, 449, 450, 457, 466, 469, 471, 473, and 474.
One of the Navy Cross recipients, Lieutenant (jg) Alvin E. Rosenbloom, CO of LCI(G) 348, assessed the situation in his action report of 9 March 1945:
This ship [LCI(G) 348] was in excellent position, because it stood in so close to the line of departure, to observe the action against the other ships. It became obvious, after the first ten minutes, that the LCI’s going in were sure to be hit; heavy splashes could be seen bracketing them, and the uncertain 40MM fire of the LCI’s indicated they were unable to locate the source of the fire.
Further, they were obviously being fired upon by guns of much heavier caliber than their own, some splashes indicating that the shell was at least a 5 inch, possibly larger.
At 1100 yards, therefore, (the range of the 4.5 rockets we use), the LCI(G) would appear to be an ineffective weapon if used against a heavily defended beach; they were easy targets for the shore batteries and rocket and 40MM fire is no answer to medium and heavy caliber fire. A longer range rocket might possibly be a solution, since the Japs didn’t open up until the LCI’s were within 2000 yards, evidently supposing them to be troop transports.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion however, that the LCI(G)s, on a heavily defended beach, are vulnerable targets, with only the reluctance of the enemy commander to disclose the position of his shore batteries between the ship and heavy fire, the silencing of which the LCI(G) is in no way equipped.16
Commander M. J. Malanaphy, Commander of LCI(G) Flotilla Three, in his report on the damage to the LCI Group 8 ships, noted that the battle damage suffered by the ships would need to be repaired quickly, as the ships were expected to participate in the invasion of Okinawa. Shortages of 40mm and 20mm guns, as well as conning tower equipment existed and this posed a major problem for the ships’ repairs and readiness for Okinawa. In addition, work on LCI gunboats was always put off until larger ships were repaired, and this would work against their preparation for Okinawa. Malanaphy requested higher command to intercede in getting the needed repairs completed. As a last resort, he requested permission to cannibalize LCI(L)s for equipment as needed. Most of the ships went to Saipan for repairs, but the most seriously damaged ones had to go to Guam where repair facilities were more advanced.
Personnel problems were a major concern. Two hundred men were considered casualties, with another 200 considered to be suffering from battle shock and of no further use. Requests for replacements had fallen on deaf ears. Only eighteen enlisted men were sent when 150 had been requested.18
In several of the LCI(G) action reports, the commanding officers complained that the practice of painting large white hull numbers on the bows of the ships made them easy targets. The numerals stood out from the green camouflage and made a good focus for enemy gunners. This was disputed by higher authority which asserted that the main cause of devastation to the gunboats was by ranging buoys that the enemy had placed in the water. This enabled them to find the range of the LCI(G)s with ease. A possible problem with the camouflage was identified by Commander Malanaphy in his First Endorsement to the action report of LCI(G) 450. Malanaphy wrote “It is considered that the designs painted by some ships on the forward side of the conning station is an undesirable practice as it furnishes a point of aim at the most vital station in the ship.”19 As a result the practice was halted.
Praise from higher command and others was not long in coming. The following day Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill, CTF 53, sent this message to Malanaphy. “I regret to hear of your losses of many brave personnel and damage to your fine ships X The LCI(G)’s as usual are leading the way with boldness and bravery.”20
The debacle of 17 February 1945 led to a number of recommendations for the use of the LCI(G) gunboats. In his report on the operations of Task Force 52 (Amphibious Support Force) at Iwo Jima, Rear Admiral W. H. P. Blandy (Commander Amphibious Group One) recommended “[t]hat LCI(G)’s be not employed in close support of UDT operations in heavily fortified areas until considerable reduction of the defenses has taken place.”21 Recommendations by Lieutenant Commander Willard V. Nash (Commander LCI(G) Group EIGHT—CTU 52.5.2) included the use of rockets with a longer range so that the gunboats could launch them while still out of range of shore batteries. Japanese buoys had been spotted in the water but were not taken into consideration. Later it was surmised that they were probably ranging markers that allowed the Japanese to effectively zero in on the gunboats.22 The buoys were destroyed by LCI(G) and LCS(L) gunboats in the following two days.
The original plans for the invasion of the volcanic island included the use of the LCI(G)s and LCS(L)s in immediate support of the landings. The losses of 17 February made the inclusion of the LCI(G)s impossible. Of the twelve LCI(G)s that had covered the UDT on 17 February, all had been hit and damaged severely. With LCI(G) 474 sunk and 441 and 473 under tow, the surviving LCI(G)s limped back to Saipan. Fortunately for the Marines about to land on the island, a new gunboat en route to the battle had remained unscathed. Twelve LCS(L)s from LCS(L) Flotilla Three were scheduled to arrive at the island just prior to the landing. Designated as Gunboat Support Unit Three under the command of Captain T. C. Aylward, it included LCS(L)s 32–36 and 51, along with flotilla flagship LCI(FF) 988 (TU 52.5.3), and LCS(L)s 31, 52–56, with LC(FF) 484 (TU 52.5.4). This variation of the LCS(L)s included a single 40mm gun mounted in the bow in addition to the two twin 40mm gun and four 20mm single guns. Ten Mark VII rocket launchers capable of launching salvos of 120 4.5 inch rockets were installed between the bow gun and the forward twin 40mm. Several .50 caliber machine guns rounded out the armament. Captain Walter Karig described the LCS(L)s as “looking something like a Fourth of July fireworks when all weapons were blazing.”23
The LCS(L)s would not be acting alone. Also arriving the morning of the invasion was TU 52.6 Mortar Support Group with Lieutenant Commander S. J. Kelley on board LCI(FF) 679. It consisted of twenty-eight LCI(M)s divided into five units.
TU 52.6.1, Mortar Support Unit One—Lieutenant Commander William T. Dom
LCI(M)s 630, 631(F), 632, 638, 756, and 1010
TU 52.6.2 Mortar Support Unit Two—Lieutenant Frank Baumholz
LCI(M)s 633(F), 757, 760, 1011, 1012, 1023
TU 52.6.3 Mortar Support Unit Three—Lieutenant Commander G. W. Hannett
LCI(M)s 658–660, 754, 1056, 1057—LCI(M) 1057 was in need of repair and had to remain at Saipan.
TU 52.6.4 Mortar Support Unit Four—Lieutenant Commander Harris Brown
LCI(G)s 739–742, 975, 1058
TU 52.6.5 Mortar Gunboat Unit Five—Lieutenant Commander Connors
LCI(G)s 351, 352, 354, 355(F), 356
Mortar gunboats were relatively new to the war. Many had been recently converted and still had their (G) designation. This was the case for many of the gunboats, as their physical changes were ahead of the administrative changes. It was not unusual for an LCI(G) to show up as a newly equipped mortar boat.
The mortar gunboats had their introduction at Peleliu and, from that point, a number were converted from LCI(L)s and some from previously converted gunboats. Since they were new, tactics had to be devised to utilize their capabilities to the maximum. Captain E. C. Rook, Commander Mortar Support Group for the invasion of Iwo Jima, had developed three fire plans for his group and trained and rehearsed them at Saipan prior to heading for Iwo Jima. A last minute medical illness befell the Captain, and he had to undergo an emergency operation at Saipan which put him out of the action. The plans that he developed were designated fire plans Able, Baker, and Charlie. They were described as:
(1) Plan Able is a means whereby a division or unit of LCI(G) mortars is enabled to deliver a sustained fire for a long period of time into a comparatively limited target area, capable of extension in depth and translation in deflection. It was believed to be best adopted for close supporting fire (flank protection) harassing and interdiction fire and through employment of its own established beacon to be a good plan for night firing….
(2) Plan Baker is a means whereby one or more mortar craft are enabled to fire a barrage having as much width as the number of ships provide, fixed or capable of extension in depth. It was assumed to be best adapted for progressive neutralization fire and close support fire over and beyond our own deployed forces….
(3) Plan Charlie includes independent or minor concentration fire on point targets or targets of opportunity for immediate or limited results. It might be used for harassing fire, counter-battery fire, interdiction fire, particularly where high trajectory is required. Plan Charlie may be conducted by single or several ships whose firing may or may not be coordinated depending on assignment.24
Mortar Plan Able. Prior to the assault on Iwo Jima, Captain E. C. Rook, Commander Mortar Support Group, had worked out three plans for the mortar ships to use and had the ships in his group rehearse them at Saipan. The three plans were assigned the names Able, Baker, and Charlie. Commander Task Unit 52.6.5 (Commander LCI(L) Group 67) No Serial, Action Report—Invasion of Iwo Jima 18–26 February 1945, No Date, Enclosure (A).
Mortar Plan Baker. Commander Task Unit 52.6.5 (Commander LCI(L) Group 67) No Serial, Action Report—Invasion of Iwo Jima 18–26 February 1945, No Date, Enclosure (B).
Although the plans reflected a great deal of thought, they were not always workable. After the demonstration landing at Okinawa on 1 April 1945 Lieutenant (jg) C. A. Schulz, Commanding Officer of LCI(M) 1057, reported that “Mortar Firing Plan ‘Able’ is not a workable plan if there is any swell or wind. Reference ship cannot hold proper positions and firing vessels waste too much time reorienting position,”25 to which Lieutenant E. S. Thorn, Commanding Officer of LCI(M) 975 added:
Plan Able of firing mortars is not considered effective and desirable by this command. The main feature of mortar fire is an effective barrage before the initial landing to paralyze and neutralize enemy installations on the beach and surrounding flanks. The Plan Able has too many lapses of time between ships shelling the beach. Also the danger of putting the ship broadside to the beach at a close range. Plan Baker or Charlie would seem more effective and desirable for a pre-assault of the initial wave. Its effect of fire power can cover more area than Able Plan of fire.26
Mortar Plan Charlie. Commander Task Unit 52.6.5 (Commander LCI(L) Group 67) No Serial, Action Report—Invasion of Iwo Jima 18–26 February 1945, No Date, Enclosure (C).
The mortar gunboats began their bombardment of inshore positions at about 0810 and ranged up and down the landing beaches. They finally arrived at a position to the north of Blue Beach 2 where they stood by for the next phase of their mission. LCI(M) 633reported that they employed Fire Plan Baker:
D Day H plus 25 , When 2000 yards from the beach, slowed to 4 knots and commenced firing on course 325° T. This plan was to walk the shots 800 to 1000 yards. Stopped all engines and held position, when 1000 yards from beach; changed pattern of fire to range 3000 yards, 6 rounds per gun per minute using a dispersion in range. Fired in area between 000° T and 325° T. This plan of firing for the unit helped keep the enemy from attacking the landing forces. During this plan LCI(M) 633 received scattered machine gun and mortar fire from the enemy. One shell blew up part of our starboard raft and machine gun fire raked the ship. The ship’s 40mm and 20mm return fire slowed the enemy fire.27
Mortar runs by various support groups continued throughout the day. Mortar Support Unit Five employed Fire Plan Able from 1953 to 0731 on the following morning. Typical of the amount of fire executed by the ships was that of LCI(G) 352 which reported:
LCI(G) 352 made 54 runs around the bombardment track, expending 694 rounds of HE, 111 rounds of WP, and 100 rounds of DF mortar ammunition. As a result of the firing, several fires of a local nature were observed to be started in the target area. It was not possible to observe the effectiveness of most of the firing, however. Enemy fire was intermittent, consisting of occasional ineffective machine gun and mortar fire. No ships were hit.28
For the next several days and until the end of the campaign, the mortar gunboats provided support for the Marines ashore, responding to call fire requests to knock out enemy emplacements that were preventing the troop’s advance. In addition, they kept the enemy off balance by providing harassing fire during the nighttime hours.
Ships do not always act alone and, in most cases, work better in consort with other vessels. LCI(M)s were excellent weapons but lacked the direct line firepower of other ships. Mortar units worked best when other ships provided covering fire. Lieutenant Commander William T. Dom, Commander of Mortar Support Unit One stated:
It is the opinion of this officer that an LCS(L)(3) mounting a three inch gun would be the most effective type ship to support a mortar unit as this type is able to close the beach to the same distance as the mortar unit and thereby observe the enemy fire first hand. A DD such as the U.S.S. BRYANT, which rendered fire-support to this Unit on its third night firing mission, is the ideal fire-support ship as it contributes greatly to the morale of the men under fire when they know they are being supported by a DD. It is recognized however that all DDs may not be as aggressive as the BRYANT in supporting a mortar unit and an LCS(L)(3) could do the job.29
The new 5 inch spin-stabilized rockets made their first appearance on LCI gunboats at Iwo Jima. These photographs may be compared with ones showing the 4.5 inch fin-stabilized rocket. NARA 80G 312105.
Among the greatest enemies of the fighting men both ashore and afloat were stress and fatigue. With a deadly adversary in front and around them, the fighting men had little chance for rest. Constant calls to general quarters, enemy fire or attacks, and the constant possibility of an air raid, kept men continually on edge. The plight of the Marines ashore was obvious, but on the ships there was little respite either. Years after the war ended, Charles Thomas, who served as a Gunner’s Mate on board LCS(L) 35 at Iwo Jima, recalled
We try to sleep leaning or sitting against something whenever there is the opportunity, but our inexorable fatigue is more than beginning to reveal itself. The physical labor performed by our crew, especially the gunners and ammunition handlers, has been prodigious, not only on this day but in the days and weeks leading up to the invasion. The noise and smoke of continuous firing are finishing off our last energies…. Sleep deprivation over the past three days [19–21 February 1945], combined with the suspense and anxiety of our first invasion, has put every man near the limit of his endurance.30
For those above deck the strain was great, but at least they could see the action and mentally prepare themselves. Those working below decks on the gunboats could only imagine the worst.
Crewmen on board an LCI(G) load rockets just prior to the assault on Peleliu on 19 September 1944. The rockets shown are the original 4.5 inch fin-stabilized barrage rockets that were standard for most of the war. They were replaced by the 5 inch spin-stabilized rocket at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. NARA 80G 247558.
In addition to the mortar ships, Task Unit 52.7.1, consisting of LCI(R)s 644, 651, 707, 708, 771, 772, 1029, 1030, and 1077 and LCI(G)s 80, 345, and 437, with Lieutenant Commander F. Thompson, Jr. on board the flagship LCI(R) 707, arrived early in the morning of 19 February. These ships all belonged to Flotilla 16 and had just undergone conversion at Hunter’s Point, San Francisco. The new 5 inch spin-stabilized rockets carried a heavier payload and had a much longer range than the commonly used 4.5 inch barrage rockets. These were installed on the Flotilla 16 rocket gunboats. LCI(G)s and LCS(L)s carried the older 4.5 inch rockets. Overall control of the rocket gunboats was held by Commander Clarence E. Coffin who served as Commander Task Group 52.7. While other ships bombarded inland and covered the landing beaches, these rocket ships stationed themselves 2,500 yards off the northeastern beaches near Hanare Rock and kept up a constant fusillade of 5 inch rocket fire on enemy targets near Motoyama beginning at 0656 on 19 February and lasting throughout the day. Typical of the ammunition expended by each ship was that of LCI(R) 644. She reported firing 1,251 5 inch rockets, 176 rounds of 40mm, and 648 rounds of 20mm fire against the beaches.31
The naval bombardment of the beaches ceased at 0800 to allow a strike by Task Force 58 fighters and bombers to make their runs on the beaches and inland areas, including the slopes of Mount Surabachi. They were joined by fifteen B-24 Liberators which had flown in from the Marianias. When the air strikes were completed, naval bombardment began again at 0825 and the LCS(L) gunboats formed up for the assault. LCI(M)s and LCI(R)s continued unleashing their missiles of death on the Japanese defenders.
The LCS(L)s were scheduled to make a total of two rocket runs on the beaches. The purpose of the rocket barrage was twofold. One involved the possibility that the Japanese had buried quantities of drums of gasoline at water’s edge and just inland. LCS(L) 31reported:
This initial salvo was intended to ignite any electrically wired gasoline drums which were believed to be arranged on the beaches’ edge so as to set up a “wall of flame” ahead of our first assault wave just as it reached the beach. The tremendous rocket barrage almost perfectly placed over the questionable area produced no visible effect indicating that the “wall of flame” idea had been discarded and the gasoline drums removed sometime previously.32
The salvos of rockets moving from the shore line to a few hundred yards inland ensured that there would be no Japanese defenders left above ground to challenge the Marines as they landed. Twelve LCS(L)s each fired two salvos of 120 rockets on their initial runs. That made a total of 2,880 rockets to hit the landing beaches, the width of which was about 2,600 yards. This was in addition to the fire laid down by other ships and followed the earlier bombardment of the beaches and immediate areas by the LCI(M)s.
The LCS(L)s flew brightly colored pennants of either red, green, yellow, or blue from their masts as guides for the landing craft following them into the beaches. At the end of the rocket run, they turned and ran parallel to the beaches to deliver automatic weapons fire with their 20mm and 40mm guns before turning seaward. Enemy mortar and small arms fire was directed at them, but none of the ships were hit. By 0830 they were ready for their second run, again delivering a salvo of rockets against the shore. These rockets were judged to hit the beaches about one hundred yards inland from the water. Mortar and small arms fire again erupted from the shore and LCS(L) 51 was hit, starting a small fire which was quickly extinguished.33
Commander Clarence E. Coffin, Jr., Commander of TG 52.7, taking a break off Iwo Jima. Coffin’s Task Group included the nine LCI(R)s and three LCI(G)s assigned to provide rocket support during the invasion of Iwo Jima. NARA 80G 305027.
At this point, the LCS(L) line held station as the first wave of LCVPs and other landing craft passed through their line and headed for the shore. They continued firing over the heads of the Marines as the second boat wave passed through their lines and then turned and ran parallel to the beaches while firing on targets of opportunity.
LCS(L) 33 fired her second salvo at 0845 and almost immediately began taking fire from shore. Machine gun fire hit the ship and damaged a couple of her port rocket launchers. Moments later a mortar shell landed in the water only fifty feet off her bow. Since a wave of LVTs was passing by, she was unable to turn as additional mortar rounds bracketed her port and starboard. Dye markers from the shells showed the Japanese that they were close to their target. The 33 backed her engines and maneuvered as much as possible to avoid being hit and also to avoid running into LVTs. Additional mortar rounds landed just where she had been minutes before, and for the next twenty minutes she maneuvered among the boat lanes until she was able to turn and move away from the beach. Two of her men were wounded by shrapnel in the attacks.
LCI(R) 708 LCI Flotilla 1, TG 51.15.3 (Rocket Support Group) at Iwo Jima in D-Day 19 January 1945. This photograph shows the gun crew for the bow 40mm gun (R-L) Roberts S1/c on phones; A. Myhre, S1/c, pointer; Tommie Alexander S1/c 1st leader; H. V. Rowland, RDM 3/c; E. Ruglie S2/c. NARA 80G 305029.
Landings on each of the designated beaches, listed from south to north, were made by:
The 3/27, under Lieutenant Colonel Donn J. Robertson, had initially been held back as regimental reserve. It landed at 1130 to assist the 2/27. The 3rd Marine Division had been held in reserve, and battalions were assigned as relief for units in the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions as needed. The 3rd Marine Division’s 1/26, under Lieutenant Colonel Daniel C. Pollock, landed at 1500 to bolster 2/27, and additional 3rd Marine Divisions units followed over the next few days.
For the remainder of the day, the LCS(L)s cruised the areas adjacent to the landing beaches. From time to time groups of enemy soldiers were visible targets for their automatic weapons, and at other times they fired into any suspicious cave or enemy position they could identify. Marine observer teams reported on board and helped them direct their fire to enemy targets. Since the gunboats could get in close to shore, it was possible for them to spot enemy targets that the Marines ashore could not see. The gunboats eliminated a number of enemy soldiers while working with the observers.
The LCS(L)s also used themselves as bait. Working with destroyers or other larger ships, the gunboats cruised close to shore to draw fire from enemy gun emplacements. Once this took place, the LCS(L)s fired tracer ammunition back at the enemy gun to identify its location. Spotters on the destroyers then directed the fire of the heavier guns into these targets to eliminate them. LCS(L )51 found herself with just such a mission as soon as she had completed covering for the landing craft waves on 19 January. From 0910 to 1030, with Marine spotter Second Lieutenant John J. Sweeney on board, she fired on pillboxes behind the boat basin. As they fired back, she aimed her tracers at them, and the cruiser Vicksburg CL 86 demolished four of them. The 51 claimed credit for two. Marines in the quarry area were being held up by heavy fire from Japanese mortars and other guns, and the 51 leveled automatic weapons fire on the area along with thirty-four of her rockets. The combined efforts of LCS(L) 51 and Vicksburg helped to break up an enemy counterattack that was being organized. Vicksburg moved on at 1150 and Sweeney and the 51 began to work with Paul Hamilton DD 590. The gunboat withdrew from the area at 1330 to get a fresh supply of ammunition and then returned to the task. From 1530 until midnight she worked in conjunction with the destroyers. On this mission she ran in close to shore near the small boat area. According to her action report for the day her “strategy this time was to go in close to shore and draw fire. We would then answer with tracer and call DDs in. In this way quite a few positions were silenced.”34 Her destroyer partners during this period were Fullam DD 474, Little DD 803, and Shields DD 596. Drawing enemy fire during the Iwo Jima campaign was a standard practice for the LCS(L)s and proved to be successful, particularly when they were teamed with larger ships. This type of fire support was most effective in the beginning of the campaign. Lieutenant Kenneth F. Machacek, CO of LCS(L) 31 reported:
Gunnery was most effective during the first two days of the action chiefly because of the enemy’s lack of concealment of both themselves and their weapons in and around the base of Mount Surabachi. Twenty-five to one hundred of the enemy were definitely destroyed by this vessel’s gunfire during these first two days. Rockets were able to reach into the ravines at the base of the mount to neutralize mortar emplacements and the close range enabled the forty and twenty millimeter batteries to keep the many caves and pill boxes silent during the early advances. Harassing fires both night and day kept the enemy guns down and hampered any attempts to counter-attack under cover of darkness…. Average range to all targets was about 1000 yards which made for nearly perfect visibility and as a result accurate, well controlled, most effective fire.35
Captain Theodore C. Aylward, Commander LCS(L) Flotilla Three. NARA 80 GK 2692.
A row of LCS(L)s may be seen between the second and third waves of landing craft. After making rocket runs on the beach, the gunboats sat close inshore to fire over the heads of the Marines as they landed. NARA 80G 415308.
Working in such close proximity to the beaches gave the sailors on board the gunboats an eye-opening view of the action. As LCS(L) 33 worked close to the beach her CO, Lieutenant Frank C. Osterland, noted that “It was during one of these close-in operations that the full impact of what was happening on the island hit me. Not far back from the water’s edge was a pile of what we could best identify as corpses in Marine uniforms. Bodies of dead Marines were stacked up like cordwood, awaiting an opportunity when they could be removed from the island.”36
A line of LCS(L)s fires on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on 19 February 1945. NH 104146.
Once the initial waves of Marines had landed, the gunboats found themselves with a variety of duties. One of the most discouraging was that of salvage duty. Numerous landing craft littered the beach area where they had been struck and disabled by gunfire. This number grew constantly throughout the morning and afternoon of D-Day. At first, the idea of having them blown up by the UDT seemed feasible, but the nearness of the troops and other hazards that would be caused by the explosions soon indicated that this was not a good idea. Since they were able to get close to shore, it was thought that the gunboats would be able to attach cables to these wrecks and pull them off the beach. Unfortunately they were not suited for the duty. In many cases, their cables parted or their equipment just gave out. In addition, their flat bottoms, while useful for getting them in close to shore, made it difficult for them to keep course when pulling heavy objects. Time and again cables parted, ships collided with one other, screws were damaged, and very little was accomplished. Getting close to the beach presented numerous problems, not the least of which was running into submerged landing craft and vehicles that had sunk. The hulls of the LCS(L)s and LCIs were made of 3⁄16 inch thick steel, which could easily be punctured by a collision. It was obvious that the ships were not suited for salvage duty. Lieutenant C. J. Boone, Commanding Officer of LCS(L) 33 reported:
It is believed we sustained more damage to our ship, through our salvage attempts, and from mooring alongside other ships, than we did from enemy effort. The forward frames of the ship are sprung, the stanchions below the 20mm gun tubs are broken, the starboard 20mm gun tub is completely free of outboard support, and is now shored up with 4x4 timbers. Bad dents all along each side of hull from towing and salvage attempts. Condition of bow below water line is unknown, from repeated beaching over sunken wrecks, but no leaks are noticeable.
We lost one anchor with approximately seventy fathoms of cable. Broke all our hawsers, and have about fifty feet of ¾" cable left, also burned out the clutch of our anchor winch.
It is strongly recommended that this type ship not be used for salvage duty. We are not equipped to do the job—and much embarrassment is felt on our part when called upon to do a job, for which we are not fitted.37
LCS(L)s 34 and 36 approach the beach at Iwo Jima to fire on enemy positions on 19 February 1945. Official U.S. Navy photograph.
Resupply of the ships was usually accomplished by mooring alongside larger ships such as APAs and LSTs. This presented a great deal of danger to the smaller gunboats as they were continually battered against the sides of the larger ships by wave action. Lieutenant K. C. Huff, CO of LCS(L) 35, noted an additional cause of damage:
No damage was incurred from enemy fire. However, considerable damage was received while alongside of other vessels. This damage included 16 strained frames, four broken stanchions, bent gun tubs and shields, loosened water lines, two foot hole in bow, loss of all lines, during salvage work, near loss of the anchor during salvage work, damaged radar, damaged spare parts on mast, and cracked seams forward.38
To which Lieutenant H. D. Chickering, CO of LCS(L) 51, added:
We are definitely not designed to come alongside APAs, AOGs etc. for fuel, provisions, etc. Our construction is such that we batter ourselves to pieces even in a moderate sea, and logistics should be carried out from LCMs and similar smaller craft.39
Nighttime activities included a great deal of what was termed harassing fire. Mindful of the near proximity of American troops, the gunboats made sure that their rounds did not fall on friendly troops. During the first few days of the campaign, the LCS(L)s and LCI(R)s were used for call-fire. However, the nature of their rockets and automatic weapons fire was less useful as the fighting moved inland to areas that were not in their line of sight. It was at this point that the LCI(M)s came into greater use. Constant night firing, as well as daytime firing, was used to attack enemy targets that could not easily be seen. Fire to these targets was directed by Marine fire control teams on board the gunboats which coordinated with Marine units ashore. Nighttime harassing fire was useful in keeping the enemy off guard. Typical of the nighttime assignments was that of LCI(M) 1056. Her CO, Ensign C. L. Edman, reported that from 1930 on 26 February until 0630 the following morning, his ship was directed to deliver mortar fire on suspected enemy positions. By the end of the period they had fired 380 mortar rounds at the enemy, consisting of 308 rounds of high explosive and 78 white phosphorous.40 Constant firing of the mortars and guns led to many malfunctions of equipment. The volume of fire delivered at enemy targets was more than equipment was designed for. Reports of bent mortar straps, broken tie rods, and broken firing pins were common.
In practice, the mortar gunboats frequently used plan A with one of their ships as a reference vessel. This vessel kept station at a particular point and the others cruised around it in a circle formation. As they reached a predetermined position relative to the reference vessel, the LCI(M) fired its mortar rounds while proceeding toward shore. This gave them the ability to “walk” the mortar rounds across a lengthy distance. At the end of their firing run, they circled around for another. During this time they used their 40mm and other guns against shore targets while preparing for the next firing of their mortars. The nearness to shore frequently caused problems for the reference ship in keeping its position, as wave action constantly worked against it. This was reported by Lieutenant J. C. Wilson, CO of LCI(M) 1012:
There was quite a set off the beach from the swell and the reference ship had difficulty maintaining her position on the reference point. Visibility was poor most of the night. The continuous firing of star shells in this area helped us in keeping our formation. The moon being almost full also helped. We fired 520 rounds during the night and had the use of only one mortar for a large percentage of the time and only two for part of the time. The welded tie rods did not hold up. We went alongside a repair ship before firing again and got stronger ones made, having no further trouble on this score. Our shells appeared to be doing damage to the target area the extent of which we don’t know. The return fire from shore was machine gun fire at long intervals. Again our secondary battery was a big help in keeping the fire down.
1610 Went alongside ARS-34 to effect repairs to #2 and #3 Mortars. Stronger tie rods were secured and the back strap re-welded on both Mortars. While tied up to this repair ship our port side took an awful pounding due to the heavy swells banging the ships together. Six frames just aft of the conn were caved in 6 or 8 inches.41
The gunboats could deliver 20mm and 40mm gunfire at Japanese targets most any time. However, the use of rockets and mortars had to be interrupted when American fighters and bombers attacked the Japanese. Fear of hitting an aircraft with a rocket or mortar rounds was always a concern. Navy pilots had to worry about enemy fire. They did not need to dodge falling rockets and mortars launched by the gunboats. In spite of holding their rocket or mortar fire when their planes attacked enemy targets, mishaps did occur. On 19 February, a Kingfisher observation plane from one of the larger ships was observed flying low over the line of fire from the mortar gunboats. Shortly thereafter, it was observed spiraling downward minus its tail. It was thought that the observation plane was hit by a mortar round from LCI(M) 638. None of the ships in the unit had been warned of its approach. It hit the water 350 yards astern of LCI(M) 756 which sent out a rescue boat. Unfortunately its crew did not survive the crash.42
Coordination of air and gunboat missions was considered desirable. On 27 February LCI(M) 356 worked over enemy positions on the west side of Iwo Jima between air strikes. As a result of the experience, her CO, Lieutenant E. B. Wicklander, recommended that coordination of air strikes and gunboat attacks be stressed. In his action report of 7 March 1945 he stated:
Enemy considered undivided attention to the air attack was more important. Mortar ship was free to lay its mortar fire without interruption, or opposition. It is suggested that the effect on the enemy was to distract their attention from the job of defending his position, even though well protected. Whether he attends his anti-aircraft job or fires at mortar ship, the other unit is left relatively free to operate.43
One of the tasks for which the LCS(L)s were well-suited was that of firefighting. On 22 February Japanese mortar fire managed to set fire to an American ammunition dump only forty yards off the beach. Innumerable cases of hand grenades, 5.0 rockets, and small arms ammunition were contained in the dump. However, the Marines desperately needed their ammunition, as the battle was only in its third day. LCS(L)s 53 and 54 beached at 0155 and ran hoses from their Hale pumps and Johnson pumps over to the fire area and began to play water on it. A dazed and injured Marine stumbled from the area into their path and was taken aboard the 54 for medical aid. By 0230 the fires were under control, but exploding ordnance and fires were not their only problem. At 0255 a Japanese Betty dropped a stick of four small bombs only fifty yards from the ships but they were undamaged. By 0300 the fires were out and the LCS(L)s hauled themselves off the beach with their mission accomplished.44
By 26 February the need for so many fire support ships had diminished, and the LCS(L)s, and some of the other LCI gunboats departed for Saipan. Other gunboats would remain to assist the Marines ashore until 3 March 1945.