Chapter 3: FLINTLOCK: Completing the Conquest1
On D plus 1, after the capture of the outlying islands, General Schmidt’s 4th Marine Division was to storm Roi-Namur. At Roi, where the enemy had built an airfield, Colonel Louis R. Jones would land two reinforced battalions of the 23rd Marines on the Red Beaches along the lagoon coast of the island. Namur, to the east of the sandspit that joined the twin islands, was the objective of another reinforced regiment, the 24th Marines, commanded by Colonel Franklin A. Hart. There two assault battalions were to strike northward across the island after landing on the Green Beaches. LVTs of the 4th Amphibian Tractor Battalion were to carry the Roi battalions, and the Marines destined for Namur would rely on the 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion, veteran of the D-Day landings. (See Maps 9 and 10.)
Land the Landing Force
Admiral Conolly and his staff were quick to profit from the mistakes of D-Day. The long journey through heavy seas from the transfer area to the beaches had been too much for the short-legged LVTs.2 The original plan for D plus 1 called for the landing force to transfer to LSTs and there load in the tractors. When the Marines had entered the assault craft, the parent LSTs were to lower their ramps and launch the tractors. The LVTs would then battle the waves to enter the lagoon, move to a position off the objective, and form for the assault. Although this plan spared the troops the discomfort of transferring at sea from one type of landing craft to another, it did not reduce the distance which the tractors had to travel. To avoid the delays of D-Day and move the LVTs closer to their line of departure, Conolly invoked his rough weather plan. The troop transfer arrangement was left unchanged, but the LSTs were
directed to enter the lagoon before launching their tractors.3
This change, however, could not prevent a repetition of many of the difficulties that had marred the D-Day landings. The principal offenders were the LVTs and LSTs, for the two types did not cooperate as well as they should have. The troubles of the 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion began on the night of 31 January as its vehicles were returning from ALBERT and ALLEN.
Some of the parent LSTs failed to display the prearranged lights, so that many tractors became lost in the gathering darkness. The boats that were to guide the LVTs fared no better, and the battalion soon became disorganized. Since the tractors did not carry identifying pennants, the LST crews could not easily determine which vehicles had been entrusted to their care. Concerned that they would be unable to refuel their own LVTs, the captains of a few landing ships refused to give gasoline to strangers. The commander of the tractor battalion felt that the trouble stemmed from the feeling, apparently shared by many of the LST sailors, that the LVTs were boats rather than amphibious vehicles. “They should be made to appreciate the fact that LVTs are not boats,” he admonished, “cannot maneuver or operate in the manner of boats, nor are they tactically organized in the manner of boat units.”4
Although the bulk of the battalion vehicles either reached the haven of the LSTs or remained for the night on one of the captured islands, seven tractors were not yet accounted for when FLINTLOCK ended.5 As dawn approached, the battalion commander realized that the LSTs had not retrieved enough tractors to execute the morning’s operations. He notified Admiral Conolly who put into effect a replacement scheme. The company commander, Company A, 11th Amphibian Tractor Battalion was ordered to send a specific number of LVTs to certain of the landing ships to make up the shortage.
The ordeal of the 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion did not affect the preparations of the Roi-Namur landing force. As soon as there was daylight enough for safe navigation, the LSTs carrying the 4th Amphibian Tractor Battalion began threading their way into the lagoon. At 0650, the old battleship USS Tennessee opened fire against a blockhouse on the sandspit that linked Roi with Namur, while other vessels commenced hammering Namur. The bombardment of Roi, delayed by the passage of LSTs between the support units and the island, began at 0710. Carrier planes arrived over the twin islands, and howitzers of the 14th Marines joined in the shelling. W-Hour, the hour of the landings, was set for 1000.
Meanwhile, the LSTs had arrived in
position to disgorge the tractors assigned to the 23rd Marines. Like those LVTs used on D-Day, the tractors loaded on the weather decks of the ships had to be lowered by elevators to join the vehicles stored on the tank decks and then be sent churning toward the beaches. Before the convoy sailed, tests had shown that the LVT(2)s were too long for the elevators. As a result, an inclined wooden plane was built on the elevator platform. If the tractor was driven up this ramp, it was sufficiently tilted to pass down the opening with a few inches to spare. Maneuvering the vehicles into position was a time-consuming job, an impossible task unless clutch and transmission were working perfectly. Yet, this was the only method of getting these LVTs into the water.
The elevator in one LST broke down midway through the launching, leaving nine tractors stranded on the weather deck. The Marines assigned to these vehicles were sent to the tank deck and placed, a few at a time, in the LVTs loading there. On another LST, the ramp was so steep that few vehicles could negotiate it. Drivers pulled as far up the incline as they could, then stopped, while a crew of men with a cutting torch trimmed the splash fenders at the rear of the tractors until clearance was obtained.6
At 0825, all fire-support ships had acknowledged Conolly’s message confirming 1000 as W-Hour, but within a few minutes General Schmidt was sending Colonel Hart some disquieting news. “We are short 48 LVTs as of 0630,” the commanding officer of the 24th Marines had reported. The commanding general now replied: “Every effort being made to get LVTs. Use LCVPs for rear waves and transfer when LVTs are available.”7 A two-hour search for amphibian tractors proved fruitless. Because of the night’s confusion, the necessary number of LVTs was not at hand.
Both regiments were falling behind schedule, although sailors and Marines alike were trying desperately to get the assault craft into formation. When Admiral Conolly asked the commander of the transport group if a postponement was necessary, he immediately received the reply: “Relative to your last transmission, affirmative.”8 At 0853, the time of the attack was delayed until 1100.
The schedule of fires was adjusted to meet this new deadline, and the task of destruction continued. At 0925, another crisis arose. A salvage boat sent to ABRAHAM by the transport USS Biddle reported: “Japs are counterattacking from CAMOUFLAGE. Send support immediately.”9 This message was instantly relayed to Conolly, and even though aerial observers could not locate the enemy troop concentration, the admiral took no chances. Torpedo bombers, warships, and artillery batteries hurled high explosives into the southern part of Namur, but by
1000 it was clear that the report of a counterattack had been incorrect.
When this sudden flurry of action ended, support ships returned to their tasks, firing deliberately and accurately until 1026 when the shelling was stopped to permit an airstrike. A glide-bombing attack followed by strafing runs kept the enemy occupied. As the planes were departing, the naval bombardment resumed.
Colonel Jones arrived at the line of departure 15 minutes before W-Hour. Although he had ample time to transfer with his staff to the pair of LVTs that had been assigned him, the tractors could not be found. He eventually would land from an LCVP.10
Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Dillon’s 2/23, the force destined for Red 3, loaded into LVTs, left the LSTs, and then moved to the line of departure without waiting for the other assault battalion. Within a few minutes, 1/23, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hewin O. Hammond, had reached the line and begun the final adjustment of its formation prior to the storming of Red 2. Somehow, Hammond’s battalion had failed to learn of the postponement of W-Hour, and the men of the unit felt that they “failed miserably” to meet the deadline.11 Actually they were a few minutes ahead of schedule. (See Map 9.)
W-Hour came, then passed and still the 23rd Marines remained at the line of departure. Although Jones’ troops were ready, Hart’s 24th Marines was not. Since 0630, control officers had been trying without success to round up enough LVTs to carry the two assault battalions of the regiment. The transport group commander began releasing LCVPs to Hart, but contacting the boats and directing a sufficient number to the proper LSTs were difficult tasks. In spite of Admiral Conolly’s decision to delay the attack, the Namur landing force needed still more time.
Hart soon became convinced that his assault waves could not possibly cross the line of departure in time to complete the 33-minute run to the Green Beaches by 1100. He requested another postponement and received word that “W-hour would be delayed until the combat team could make an orderly attack “ This message led him to assume that “he was to report when his waves were in position and ready to move.”12 Satisfied that his schedule had been made more flexible, the regimental commander began making last-minute changes in the composition of his assault waves.
Because of the shortage of amphibian tractors, neither 3/24, the battalion destined for Green 1, nor 2/24, which was to attack Green 2, had enough LVTs for all its rifle companies. Lieutenant Colonel Francis H. Brink, commanding 2/24, noted that the company scheduled to remain in reserve had its full quota of vehicles, so he designated it as an assault company and placed the unit with the fewest tractors in reserve. Lieutenant Colonel Austin R. Brunelli of 3/24 ordered the tractors assigned to his
reserve to be divided between the assault companies. (See Map 10.)
When the two battalions reached the line of departure, each was but two companies strong. Control officers assigned to work with 2/24 found the situation especially confusing, for Company E, the unit originally designated battalion reserve and consigned to the fourth wave, was now the left element on the second and third waves. Additional time was lost as the company commander attempted in vain to explain the change, but his unit finally was formed in a single wave as the discarded plan had directed.13
To replace the absent reserves, Colonel Hart turned to Lieutenant Colonel Aquilla J. Dyess, commanding officer of 1/24, the regimental reserve, and ordered him to release one company to each of the assault battalions. While the LCVPs carrying these two units were moving into position, the third rifle company rejoined 2/24. The arrival of this unit, embarked in seven LVTs and two LCVPs,14 brought Brink’s battalion up to full strength. As a result, one of Dyess’ companies was returned.
While the composition of the Namur assault force was thus being altered, Colonel Jones’ Marines were waiting impatiently at the line of departure. At 1107, the colonel asked the control vessel Phelps why the attack was being delayed. Five minutes later, the red flag dropped from the yardarm of the destroyer, the signal which was to send both regiments toward their objective.15 LCI gunboats, armored amphibians, and finally the LVTs carrying the assault battalions charged toward Roi. At 1150, naval gunfire was lifted from the Red Beaches, the gunboats and armored amphibians fired as long as the safety of the incoming troops permitted, and at 1157 the 23rd Marines was reported to have reached Roi.
The signal to launch the attack came as a surprise to Colonel Hart, for he was under the impression that his regiment would not make its assault until all its elements were in position. He attempted to intercept Brunelli’s 3/24, which had responded to the control ship signal, but when he saw that the regiment on his left was moving toward Roi, he realized that such an
action would only add to the confusion. Preceded by LCI(G)s and LVT(A)s, the first waves reached Namur at 1155. The weapons emplaced on ABRAHAM supported the landing of the 24th Marines.
The four battalions that stormed Roi-Namur benefited from an experiment in air support directed by the air coordinator. Bomber pilots who were to participate in the strikes just prior to W-Hour were warned to remain above 2,000 feet. At this altitude, above the maximum ordinate of artillery, naval gunfire, and rockets, they could attack while the other supporting weapons were firing.
Just as the carefully arranged bombing attack was to begin, a rain squall blanketed the area east of the islands where the aircraft were on station. For a time, it seemed that the strike would have to be cancelled, but an opening in the clouds was spotted from the bridge of the Appalachian. The Commander, Support Aircraft was notified, and the planes were directed to the rift in the clouds west of Roi-Namur. The bombers were able to change station and complete their runs by the time the first wave was 750 yards from the beaches.
This technique assured the assault troops of a “thorough, accurate, and continuous bombing attack ... during the critical approach phase.”16 Since the naval bombardment was not lifted during the bombing attack, air support on 1 February was more effective than that given on the previous day. When the war had reached the Marianas, coordinated attacks such as this one would become commonplace.
“This is a Pip:” The Conquest of Roi
Red Beach 2, the objective of Lieutenant Colonel Hammond’s 1/23, seemed to be a stoutly defended strip of coral. The battalion zone of action was bounded on the left by Wendy Point, the westernmost tip of the island, and extended on the right to a point within 200 yards of Tokyo pier. The enemy appeared to have built heavy blockhouses on the point and scattered pillboxes along the beach. What was believed to be another blockhouse had been erected not far from the right limit of the zone. (See Map 9 and Map V.)
Since flanking fire could be delivered from Wendy Point, that portion of the beachhead had to be secured as quickly as possible. Once the fangs of the blockhouses had been drawn, Hammond’s battalion was to attack in the eastern part of its zone to aid the advance of the adjacent 2nd Battalion. Armored amphibians played a spectacular role in executing this plan.
Admiral Conolly had not specified whether the armored amphibian battalion
would support the landings from positions off the beaches or from the island itself. The officer in command of the assault regiment could decide how these vehicles might give the more effective support and place them accordingly.17 At Red 2 the tractors thundered ashore at 1133, several minutes ahead of the first wave of LVT(2)s, moved inland to seek hull defilade, and turned their 37-mm cannon against the Wendy Point fortifications. Companies A and B of Hammond’s command were both ashore by 1158. While Company A pushed toward the point, Company B began its advance toward the farthest edge of the runway to its front.
The battalion landed slightly out of position, with the companies somewhat bunched toward the left of the zone. This misalignment was caused when the tractors carrying the adjacent battalion had veered westward from the proper boat lanes. The Marines, however, met only scant fire at Red 2 and advanced with ease to their first objective, the O-1 Line.
Armored amphibians fired across the island into Norbert Circle to protect the flank of Company A as that unit probed Wendy Point. Instead of the concrete blockhouses they expected, these Marines found a single pillbox that had been blown to shreds by bombs and shellfire. Company B encountered no manned enemy positions between the beach and the O-1 Line. At 1145, Company C, 4th Tank Battalion, began landing its medium tanks and flamethrower-equipped light tanks. These armored vehicles overtook the infantry on the runway and prepared to race across the remainder of the island.
Upon crossing the line of departure, Lieutenant Colonel Dillon’s 2/23 found its destination, Red 3, to be covered with a pall of dense smoke. The tractor drivers, unable to orient themselves, tended to drift from their assigned lanes. The LVT(A)s had the most difficult time. A total of 18 of these vehicles, in contrast to the 12 that led the way to Red 2, were crowded into a single wave. One participant recalled that “there was a good deal of ‘accordion action,’ with the result that several were squeezed out of line from time to time, and there were a number of collisions. ...”18 Worse yet, rockets launched by some of the LVT(2)s fell short and exploded in the water close to the armored amphibians.19 The LVT(A)s overcame these difficulties and took positions just off the island in order to support the advance of the infantry.
Red 3, objective of 2/23, embraced all of the lagoon coast that lay between the battalion boundary west of Tokyo Pier to the base of the sandspit that linked Roi to neighboring Namur. The sandspit itself lay in the zone of action of the 24th Marines. At approximately 1150, the assault waves began passing through the LVT(A)s and landing on the island. Some tractors rumbled ashore outside the proper zone, a few on either flank. The troops that landed out of place were shepherded
onto Red 3 by alert noncommissioned officers, but those who landed too far to the right had to destroy some Japanese positions before they could cross the regimental boundary.
Resistance on the eastern part of Red 3 was ineffectual. Most of the Japanese seemed dazed by the fierce bombardment which had shattered their prepared defenses. “We received very little enemy fire,” recalled an officer who landed there with Company G, “and what fire we did receive came from the northeast corner of Roi.”20 To the west, a few defenders had survived both bombs and shells. “Although these enemy troops were few and dazed from the bombardment,” stated an officer of Company E, “they were determined to give their all, as evidenced by the two who left their entrenchment to rush the landing troops.”21
The surviving Japanese did not lack courage, but they were too few and too stunned to offer serious opposition to Dillon’s Marines. Tanks started landing shortly after noon, and by 1215 the battalion commander had set up his command post on the island. Companies E and F had reached the O-1 Line, which extended from the causeway leading toward Namur to the junction of runways Able and Baker, while Company G was busy ferreting out the Japanese who had taken cover in ruined buildings or in the culverts along the runways.
To an aerial observer circling over Roi, the actions of the assault troops were startling. “Can observe along southwest tip of island;” came one report, “troops seen not to be taking advantage of cover.”22 Colonel Jones, who landed at 1204, soon clarified the situation. “This is a pip,” crackled General Schmidt’s radio. “No opposition near the beach. ...”23 Fifteen minutes later, the commanding officer of the 23rd Marines had additional heartening news. “O-1 ours.” he reported. “Give us the word and we will take the rest of the island.”24
In thrusting across the beach, the assault troops had gained such momentum that they approached the O-1 Line like so many greyhounds in pursuit of a rabbit. Naval gunfire had drastically altered the landmarks which were to designate the line, and this contributed to a breakdown in control. The individual Marines, moreover, were inspired by their incredibly successful landing to finish off the Japanese as quickly as possible. With a confidence that bordered on recklessness, squads, platoons, and even companies launched an uncoordinated, and completely unauthorized, attack toward the northern shore.
If zest for combat can be considered a crime, the worst offenders were the tank and armored amphibian units. The crews of these vehicles, protected by armor plate, were indifferent to the .256 caliber rifle bullets that were cracking across the island. Upon
reaching the O-1 Line, the commander of Company C, 4th Tank Battalion, radioed for permission to continue the attack, but interference prevented his message from getting through. He then decided to advance rather than wait at the edge of the runway for further orders.
The company commander later justified his action by pointing out that: “If the enemy had had antitank guns in his blockhouses on the northern edge of the airfield, he would have been able to seriously damage any tanks remaining for long on the exposed runways.”25 Whatever the danger to the medium tanks might be, plans had called for the assault troops to pause at the O-1 Line. As it turned out, the menacing blockhouses had been leveled by naval gunfire, and the company commander’s aggressiveness prevented Colonel Jones from coordinating the efforts of his regiment.
The tanks roared northward firing cannon and machine guns at every ditch or heap of rubble that might harbor Japanese troops. The Marine infantrymen, trained to protect the tanks and as eager as anyone to advance, also crossed the line, firing frequently and sometimes wildly. A platoon of armored LVTs promptly joined the hunt. The amphibians moved northward along the western coast, some of them in the water, others on land, but all of them firing into trenches and other enemy positions.26
Although this impromptu attack killed numerous Japanese and sent most of the survivors scurrying toward the north, it imposed a hardship on the officers directing the campaign. As the tanks were approaching the northeastern corner of Roi, General Schmidt advised Colonel Jones to “await orders for further attack.” “Can you,” he continued, “control tanks and bring them back to O-1 Line for coordinated attack?”27 The tank company commander, in the meantime, was trying to raise Colonel Jones’ command post to obtain additional infantry support. Again there was interference on the tank-infantry radio net, and the request was not received. After ranging over the island for about an hour, the Shermans pulled back to the O-1 Line. Once the tanks began to withdraw, the infantry units followed their example, and by 1445 the colonel was reorganizing his command for a coordinated attack.
This drive was scheduled for 1515, with the two assault battalions advancing along the east and west coast. Once the shoreline had been captured, reserve units could mop up the stragglers who still lurked along the runways. At 1510, 2/23 called for a naval gunfire concentration to be fired against Nat Circle at the northeastern corner of the island. By 1530, the attack was underway.
Supported by the fire of half-tracks mounting 75-mm guns, Dillon’s Marines pushed resolutely toward Nat Circle. The enemy troops, with little time to
recover and reorganize after the earlier impromptu tank-infantry attack, were readily overcome. Tanks fought in cooperation with the infantry, and by 1600 organized resistance in the battalion zone was confined to the rubble-strewn tip of Roi. Behind 2/23 moved a company from 3/23, the battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John J. Cosgrove, Jr. Because of the speed with which the assault units were moving, this company could not carry out its mission of supporting the advance by fire and had to content itself with mopping up.
Dillon’s troops were approaching Nat Circle by the time Hammond’s 1/23 launched its attack. From 1530 to 1600, the 1st Battalion supported by fire the thrust of its adjacent unit, then Hammond ordered his infantrymen and their supporting tanks and half-tracks to strike northward along the west coast. Within 45 minutes, all organized resistance in the zone of action had been crushed. During the advance by 1/23, two of Cosgrove’s companies stood ready along the beach to thwart any Japanese attempt to attack across the sandspit from Namur.
By 1800, 1/23, in complete control along the western coast, was preparing defenses in the event of an enemy countermanding. Tanks, riflemen, 37-mm guns, a 75-mm self-propelled gun, and demolitions teams combined their efforts to destroy the Japanese defending Nat Circle. At 1802, Colonel Jones was able to report that the coastline was secured and that his men were “mopping up, working toward center from both sides.”28 Three minutes later, Roi was declared secured.
Once the situation on Roi was in hand, General Schmidt was able to concentrate on Namur, where the 24th Marines were facing determined resistance. The tanks supporting 3/23 were withdrawn even before the island was secured and sent across the sandspit. Although the defenders had been destroyed, quiet did not immediately descend upon Roi, for even as the last Japanese were being hunted down, an epidemic of “trigger-happiness” swept the island. Near Nat Circle, 3/23 extended between 3,000 and 5,000 rounds against a nonexistent sniper. Only a handful of these Marines actually knew why they were firing, but those who joined in had a sufficient motive. As members of the reserve battalion, they had played a minor role in a spectacularly successful assault, and, as their commanding officer discovered, “they wanted to be able to say they had fired at a Jap. “29 Three Marines were wounded as a result of this outburst.
On the west coast, men from 1/23 opened fire on a group of coral heads in the mistaken belief that these were Japanese troops swimming toward Roi. Observed through binoculars, the coral formations bore no resemblance to human beings, but, as one officer admitted, “to the unaided eye, those coral heads did look like swimmers.”30 No
one was injured as a result of this incident.
Colonel Jones had been absolutely correct when he called the Roi landings a “pip.” Supporting weapons, especially naval gunfire, had done their work so well that the Japanese were incapable of putting up a coordinated defense. The level terrain enabled Marine tanks to roam the island at will. The fight for Roi had been an easy one. Such was not the case on neighboring Namur.
The Storming of Namur31
The signal to launch the assault on Namur came before the two assault battalions were fully organized. Both Brink’s 2/24 and Brunelli’s 3/24 had difficulty in getting enough tractors for their commands, and some last-minute arrivals were being fitted into the formation when the destroyer Phelps signaled the LVTs to start shoreward. The firepower of supporting weapons helped compensate for the lack of organization. The weapons massed by Lieutenant Colonel Chambers on the northern coast of ABRAHAM added their metal to that delivered by naval guns, artillery pieces, and aircraft. LCI gunboats and LVT(A)s led the assault troops toward the Green Beaches. (See Map 10.)
Unlike the troops who were seizing Roi, the men of the 24th Marines got little benefit from the support of the armored amphibians. These vehicles stopped at the beaches and attempted to support by fire the advance inland. The actions of the LVT(A)s confounded Colonel Hart, the regimental commander, for he had planned that the armored amphibians would precede the assault waves to positions 100 yards inland of the Green Beaches. On the evening prior to the Namur landings, after he discovered that LVT(A)s had supported the landings on the outlying islands from positions offshore, the colonel sent a reminder to his attached armored amphibian unit. To guard any error, he told the unit commander: “You will precede assault waves to beach and land, repeat land, at W-Hour, repeat W-Hour, as ordered.”32 Explicit as these orders were, the LVT(A)s nonetheless could not carry them out. The antitank ditches backing the lagoon beaches and the cut-up jumble of trenches and debris proved to be an impassable barrier for the LVT(A)s in the short time that elapsed between the touchdown of the armored amphibians and the landing of the first waves of Marines.33 As the infantry moved inland, the LVT(A)s furnished support with all guns blazing until their fire was masked by the advance of the assault troops.
The lagoon coast of Namur was divided into Beaches Green 1, the objective of 3/24, and Green 2, where 2/24 was to land. The boundary between
the two beaches was a line drawn just west of Yokohoma pier. Green 2 encompassed the eastern two-thirds of the coast, while the remainder of the southern shore and the entire sandspit was designated Green 1. Brink’s battalion was slated to land two companies abreast on Green 2, but the first unit ashore landed in the middle of the zone. Part of the other assault company scrambled from its LVTs directly behind the leading company. The rest of these riflemen began advancing inland in the left-hand sector on the battalion zone of action.
On the right, 2/24 landed one company, arranged in a single wave, at 1155. The two waves into which the other assault company had been organized began landing on Green 2 about five minutes later. Smoke and dust, which bedeviled the amphibian tractors bound for Roi, also caused the Namur assault elements to stray from their proper boat lanes.
The Marines of 2/24 had been instructed to leave their tractors, thrust immediately toward their first objective, the O-1 Line and there reorganize. As the various rifle platoons landed, each sent ahead an assault team to deal with any fortifications that had survived the preliminary bombardment. The remainder of the platoon, divided into two groups, followed in the path of the assault element.34 At the O-1 Line, which ran along the road that extended from the causeway to within a few yards of the eastern shore, the platoons were to pause and reorganize. Here, too, company commanders would regroup their units for the drive across the island.
As was true on Roi, naval gunfire had so devastated Namur that many of the features designated to mark boundaries and phase lines were eradicated. Thick underbrush also made control difficult, for in places visibility was no more than a few feet. The 2/24 assault companies, nevertheless, continued to advance inland, but because they had landed out of position, a gap soon opened between their left flank and the battalion boundary. As landing craft became available, additional elements of the battalion reserve were landed, and Brink ordered these into the opening.
Within two hours after landing, the assault units, Companies E and F, were intermingled along the O-1 Line. A contingent from Company G and a part of Company E had overcome a knot of resistance and advanced some 175 yards inland along the battalion left flank. The farther the reserve unit moved, however, the more intense grew the opposition. The effort on the left came to a halt, pinned down by fire from a thicket near the battalion boundary and north of the O-1 Line. As soon as it became available, the remainder of Company G also was committed to aid in securing the open flank, but this group was stopped by a combination
of impenetrable undergrowth and Japanese fire.35
The first wave of LVT(2)s carrying elements of Lieutenant Colonel Brunelli’s 3/24 reached Green 1 at about 1155, and within five minutes, Companies I and K were beginning the advance toward O-1. The final dash to the beach had been hampered by low-hanging clouds of smoke, and units had strayed from formation. In effect, the assault companies simply exchanged platoons, for, as one officer recalled, “the major part of one platoon from Company I landed in the K/24 zone and approximately the same number from K in the I/24 zone.”36 These units advanced directly inland, remaining with their “adopted” companies until the O-1 Line was gained.
The volume of fire that greeted 3/24 was somewhat heavier than that which had been encountered by the battalion on its right. Small groups of Japanese, most of them still groggy from the bombardment, fought from the ruins of their emplacements, but there was no organized defense. The communications center on Namur, from which the defense of the twin islands was to have been directed, had been destroyed. Although the enemy would, as expected, fight to the death, he was no longer capable of launching a coordinated counterattack against the rapidly expanding beachhead.
Company B of Dyess’ battalion, which had been assigned as Brunelli’s reserve, shore party units, and self-propelled 75-mm guns landed on Green 1, while the assault companies drove inland through the underbrush and debris. Riflemen and demolition teams worked together to destroy the scattered enemy pillboxes and covered emplacements and keep the attack moving. Many Japanese, hidden in the underbrush and shattered rubble, were bypassed by the assault units and left to reserve forces to mop up.
At 1300, three light tanks from Company B, 4th Tank Battalion, arrived on Green 1. Two of them bogged down in soft sand along the beach, and the other vehicle roared some 30 yards inland, tumbled into a shell crater, and threw a tread. Twice, groups of from 15 to 20 Japanese leaped from the shelter of pillboxes to attack the stranded tanks, but the Marines beat off both groups and cleared the structures where the enemy had hidden. Two Japanese were captured and 30 killed as a result of these forays. Later in the day, the remaining two lights of the supporting tank platoon landed and helped get the disabled vehicles back into the fight.
By 1400, 3/24 was reorganizing along the O-1 Line. Company I had advanced about 150 yards beyond the control line, but Brunelli promptly ordered the unit to withdraw.
Although the enemy resisted the advance of 3/24 with greater vigor, the other battalion of Hart’s regiment suffered a higher number of casualties, losses caused only indirectly by the defenders. At 1305, assault teams of 2/24 were attacking a massive concrete building in the vicinity of O-1. As the Marines were placing shaped charges against the wall, the Japanese in the immediate vicinity took to their heels.
Once the wall had been breached, the demolitions detail began hurling satchel charges inside. Suddenly, the structure vanished in a pillar of smoke.
At this moment the regimental command post group, in the process of moving ashore, was approximately 300 yards off Namur. While Lieutenant Colonel Homer L. Litzenberg, Jr., the executive officer, watched, “the whole of Namur Island disappeared from sight in a tremendous brown cloud of dust and sand raised by the explosion.”37 Two other blasts occurred in rapid succession, and within seconds large chunks of concrete and other debris began raining down on Colonel Hart’s command post, causing some injuries.38
The devastation ashore was awesome. An officer who was standing on the beach at the time of the first explosion recalled that “trunks of palm trees and chunks of concrete as large as packing crates were flying through the air like match sticks. ... The hole left where the blockhouse stood was as large as a fair sized swimming pool.”39 This series of blasts killed 20 members of 2/24 and wounded 100 others. Among the injured was Lieutenant Colonel Brink, who refused to be evacuated.
At first, the tragedy was believed to have been caused by a fluke hit by a 16-inch shell on a warehouse filled with explosives. Investigation proved that the satchel charges thrown into the bunker had detonated row upon row of torpedo warheads. This violent blast could have touched off two smaller magazines nearby, or the enemy may possibly have caused the later explosions in the hope of inflicting additional casualties.40
The three explosions, which caused about one-half of its casualties on Namur, were a severe blow to 2/24. Colonel Hart attached Company A of Dyess’ command to the battered unit, and a delay ensued as Brink’s organization was restored to effectiveness. In the meantime, 3/24 was poised to attack toward the northern coast. From the undergrowth across the O-1 Line, a trio of Japanese emplacements were holding Brunelli’s Marines at bay. The commanding officer of 3/24 planned to attack at 1630 in conjunction with Brink’s unit. In preparation for this effort, light tanks and armored amphibians rumbled inland to fire into the enemy strongpoints. Two of these positions were silenced, but the third, a pillbox near the eastern shore, continued to enfilade the ground along the O-1 Line.
Company L finally landed at 1531, an unavoidable delay since, as its commander pointed out, the unit “had no means of getting ashore earlier other than swimming.”41 This company relieved Company B as 3rd Battalion reserve, assumed responsibility for mopping up, and sent men to strengthen Company I. Company B then moved
into line in place of Company K, which was sent to the sandspit. Company K was to consolidate control over Pauline Point, which extended beyond the front lines, and support by fire the advance on Namur proper.
At 1630, as the advance division command post was being established on Namur, 3/24 launched its drive. Because of the tragic blast, 2/24 was not yet ready to advance. Brunelli’s Marines found that the Japanese had recovered from the effects of the bombardment. Although resistance was not coordinated, dense thickets and the enemy’s willingness to die fighting combined to slow the offensive.
While 3/24 was attacking, Lieutenant Colonel Brink was busy shuffling his units in an effort to restore 2/24 to fighting trim. Company A moved to the right-hand portion of the battalion zone. To its left was another attached organization, Company C, along with fragments of Companies E and F and approximately half of Company G.42 Light tanks of the Headquarters Section and 1st Platoon, Company B, 4th Tank Battalion added their weight and firepower, and at 1730 2/24 joined 3/24 in plunging northward.
Tanks, protected insofar as the foliage permitted by infantrymen, spearheaded both battalions. These vehicles fired 37-mm canister rounds which shredded the stubborn undergrowth in addition to killing Japanese. Whenever the riflemen encountered an especially difficult thicket, they temporarily lost sight of the tanks they were to protect, and the vehicles to the rear had to defend those in front of them. If enemy soldiers attempted to clamber aboard the leading tanks in an attempt to disable them with grenades, 37-mm guns in the covering wave would unleash a hail of canister that swept the enemy to oblivion.
Without this sort of protection, a light tank was all but helpless, as proved by an incident in the 3/24 zone. One vehicle from Company B struck a log, veered out of position, and stopped to orient itself. A squad of Japanese swarmed onto the tank, and a grenade tumbled through a signal port which had been left open to allow engine fumes to escape. The blast killed two of the four Marines inside and wounded the others. Another tank and its accompanying rifle squad arrived in time to cut down the fleeing enemy.
Elements of 2/24 managed to make deep penetrations during the afternoon action. On the left, a few riflemen and some tanks reached a position within 35 yards of the north coast. This position, however, could not be maintained, and the men and machines were ordered to rejoin the rest of the battalion about 100 yards to the south. On the right, the elements of 2/24 that were probing Nadine Point encountered vicious machine gun fire. Although these Marines were able to beat off a local counterattack, they could not advance far beyond O-1.
Near 1700, General Schmidt landed and conferred with Colonel Hart. Within an hour, the general had opened his command post on Namur and was shifting his troops to assist the 24th Marines. He ordered Jones’ reserve battalion (3/23) and the medium tanks of the combat team to move at once to Namur.43 The Shermans lumbered across the sandspit in time to take part in the afternoon’s fighting.
A platoon of these tanks reported to Lieutenant Colonel Brunelli at 1830, when 3/24 had advanced some 175 yards beyond the O-1 Line. Rather than waste time feeding the Shermans into the battalion skirmish line, Brunelli used them to spearhead a sweep along the west coast. The tanks, a 75-mm self-propelled gun, and several squads of infantry brushed aside enemy resistance to secure the abandoned emplacements on Natalie Point, northernmost part of the island. Isolated and low on ammunition, the task force had to withdraw before darkness.
At 1930, Colonel Hart ordered his Marines to halt and defend the ground they already had gained. Except for two bulges, the regimental main line of resistance ran diagonally from a point roughly 100 yards south of Nora Point to the intersection of O-1 and the eastern coast. Toward the left of Brink’s sector, the line curved to include the group of light tanks and riflemen that had been ordered back from near the north shore.44 On the far right, the line again veered northward to encompass the elements of 2/24 that had overrun a part of Nadine Point. As Brink’s Marines were digging in, the missing portion of Company G rejoined its parent unit along the battalion boundary.45
The night of 1-2 February was somewhat confusing but not particularly dangerous to the embattled Marines. From the front, the Japanese attempted to harass the assault troops, while to the rear by-passed defenders would pop out of piles of debris, fire their weapons, and quickly disappear. In addition, Colonel Hart’s men had to put up with the “eerie noise of the star shell as it flew through the air,” a sound which they at first found disturbing.46 Since this was their first night of combat, the Marines did engage in some needless shooting at imagined snipers. When some machine gunners along the beach opened fire into the treetops to their front, General Schmidt himself emerged from his command post to calm them.47 The troops, however, conducted themselves well enough, and the enemy, although able to launch local attacks, was incapable of making a serious effort to hurl the invaders into the sea.
Darkness found the medium tanks that had crossed over from Roi in difficult straits. The armored unit was located inland from Green 1, but its gasoline and ammunition were on Red 3. Boats could not be found to ferry the needed supplies from Roi, and the tank
crews did not have pumps with which to transfer gasoline from one vehicle to another. They had no choice but to pool all the remaining 75-mm shells and divide them among the four Shermans that had the most fuel.
The coming of light proved the wisdom of this arrangement, for the tanks were able to assist Companies I and B in shattering a counterattack. During the night, contact between the two units had been lost, and the enemy was now trying to exploit the gap. While the tanks charged forward, Company L moved into position to contain any breakthrough, and Company K began withdrawing from the sandspit to the island proper.
The Japanese counterattack failed, though the fighting raged for 25 minutes. When Company L arrived to seal the gap, it found that the medium tanks and the men of Companies I and B had broken the enemy spearhead and advanced about 50 yards. All that remained was the task of pushing to the north shore.
Colonel Hart planned to attack at 0900 with two battalions abreast. Enough medium tanks were now available to provide assistance to the riflemen of both battalions. Lieutenant Colonel Brink, injured on the previous day when the blockhouse exploded, yielded command of 2/24 to Lieutenant Colonel Dyess of 1/24. Two rifle companies from 1/24 were to take part in the morning attack of the 2nd Battalion, while the third served as reserve for 3/24. Mopping-up was to be carried out concurrent with the advance.
Brunelli’s Marines, aided by medium tanks, launched their blow exactly on schedule. The Shermans concentrated on pillboxes and other concrete structures, firing armor-piercing rounds to penetrate the walls and then pumping high explosives shells into the interior. Nora Point was taken within two hours, and by 1215, 3/24 was in control of Natalie Point on the northern coast.
The medium tanks destined for 2/24 were late in arriving, so the attack by the battalion was delayed until 1006. On the left, a blockhouse had to be destroyed by tanks and self-propelled guns, but elsewhere the Marines moved steadily northward. The final enemy strongpoint proved to be an antitank ditch, part of the defenses along the ocean shore, from which the Japanese were firing at the advancing troops. Light tanks wiped out these defenders by moving to the flank of the ditch and raking it with canister and machine gun fire. Lieutenant Colonel Dyess, who had repeatedly risked his life throughout the morning to keep the attack moving, was killed as he urged his men toward Natalie Point. At 1215, the two battalions met at Natalie Point; Namur had been overrun. The island was declared secured at 1418.
Because of the more determined resistance on Namur, Navy corpsmen assigned to the 24th Marines had a more difficult job than those who served with the 23rd Marines on Roi. A corpsman accompanied every assault platoon, “and wherever and whenever a man was hit, he went unhesitatingly to his assistance, often ... coming directly into an enemy line of fire.”48 Shell craters became aid stations, as
corpsmen struggled to save the lives of wounded Marines. Once again, these sailors had performed their vital work skillfully and courageously.
Colonel Hart’s 24th Marines had conquered Namur in spite of serious obstacles. The most spectacular of these was the tragic explosion of the blockhouse, but the shortage of tractors, the incompletely formed assault waves, poor communications, and tangled undergrowth also conspired against the regiment. Colonel Hart remained convinced that “had LVT(2)s and/or LCVPs been available as originally planned, or had the departure ... been delayed until 1200,” the island would have been taken more quickly and with fewer casualties.49
The men of both regiments were brave and aggressive, if somewhat lacking in fire discipline. Their primary mission accomplished, the men of the 4th Marine Division could allow their guns to cool, absorb the lessons of the past few days, and prepare for the final phase of the FLINTLOCK operation. To the south, however, the fight for Kwajalein Island still was raging. As the Marines rested, soldiers of the 7th Infantry Division continued to press an attack of their own.
The Conquest of Kwajalein Island50
At 0930, 1 February, the 32nd and 184th Infantry Regiments of General Corlett’s 7th Infantry Division landed at the western end of Kwajalein Island. The preliminary bombardment by field artillery and naval guns, as well as the aerial strikes, had been extremely effective. Admiral Turner, at the request of General Corlett, had ordered two of his battleships to close to 2,000 yards, an extremely short range for these big ships, and level a wall inland of the assault beaches. The captains involved did not believe the figure was correct and asked for clarification, so Turner subtracted 500 yards from his original order, and had them open fire.51 (See Map 11.)
Aided by this kind of fire support, the well-rehearsed assault proceeded relatively smoothly. The formation headed for each of the two landing beaches was shaped somewhat like the letter U. On either flank, extending forward at an angle of about 45 degrees from the base, was a line of LVT(A)s. These vehicles joined the LCI gunboats in neutralizing the beaches and then crawled ashore to protect the flanks of the beachhead. At the base of the U were the troop-carrying LVTs, with both rifle and engineer platoons in the first wave.
The landings were executed as planned. The only difficulty, telescoping toward the right of the assault waves, stemmed from a mechanical characteristic of the tractors used at Kwajalein Island. These vehicles tended to pull toward the left. The drivers attempted to compensate by inclining toward the right, and in their
eagerness to remain in the proper lanes they veered too far.52
On the first day, the infantry-engineer teams quickly secured the beaches. No serious opposition was encountered until the attackers had overrun the western third of the airfield. At this point, however, the nature of the battle changed. By the end of the first day, the swift amphibious thrust had become a systematic and thorough offensive designed to destroy a Japanese garrison that was fighting from ruined buildings, shattered pillboxes, and piles of debris. Massive artillery concentrations and close coordination between tanks and riflemen characterized the advance which ended at 1920 on 4 February with the securing of the farthest tip of the island.
As far as Marines were concerned, the most interesting feature of this operation was the logistical plan devised by General Corlett and his staff. Instead of LVTs, the 7th Infantry Division used DUKWs as supply vehicles. Amphibious trucks, filled with items certain to be needed early in the operation, were loaded in LSTs before the convoy left the Hawaiian Islands. These vehicles were sent ashore as needed. As soon as they had unloaded, they reported to the beachmaster. That officer placed the wounded in some of the trucks, but whether or not they carried casualties, all DUKWs next reported to a control officer off the beach. Here a representative of the division medical officer directed the wounded to vessels equipped to care for them, while the control officer saw to it that the DUKWs maintained an uninterrupted flow of supplies from the LSTs to the assault units.
In general, the so-called “hot cargo” system worked well, for by noon of D-Day DUKWs were already arriving on the island. The only serious breakdown, which occurred that night, was caused by a flaw in the basic plan. As evening approached, two of three LSTs that were feeding cargo to trucks destined for the 184th Infantry were recalled from their unloading area. The remaining ship carried no 75-mm ammunition for the tanks assigned to support the next day’s advance. As a result, the Shermans were late in getting into action.53
The logistical plan, however, cannot account for the comparative ease with which the assault waves gained Kwajalein’s beaches. The tractor and LVT(A) units assigned to the 7th Infantry Division benefited from rehearsals held in Hawaii prior to departure for the target area. By the time these exercises were held, the plan of attack had been completed. Not so fortunate were the tractor units that landed the 4th Marine Division, for their final rehearsal was held even before the landing force scheme of maneuver had been decided upon. The lack of a last-minute rehearsal gravely hampered the Marines.
The D-Day operations also had a more serious effect on the Marine LVT
units than on the Army tractor battalion. On 31 January, General Corlett had employed tractor groups against two islands and held back two other groups, one per assault battalion, for the following day’s operation. More complicated was the task facing General Schmidt, whose troops had to seize five small islands. Although he did maintain a reserve for Roi-Namur, these idle tractors had to be augmented by vehicles that took part in the D-Day landings. This was necessary since four battalions were to storm the twin islands. Because of the series of delays and other misfortunes, not enough tractors could be retrieved before nightfall. Thus, the number of landings scheduled for D-Day, the width of the beachheads the 4th Marine Division was to seize, and the lack of rehearsals combined to complicate the Roi-Namur landings.
General Corlett could well be satisfied with the conduct of his veteran division at Kwajalein Island. “I think the Navy did a marvelous job as did the Marines,” he later observed, “and I think the Army did as well as either of them.”54 With the capture of Kwajalein Island on 4 February, the last of FLINTLOCK’s principal objectives was secured, but several lesser islands remained to be taken.
The Final Phase55
On Roi-Namur the work of burying the enemy dead, repairing battle damage, and emplacing defensive weapons was begun as promptly as possible. Antiaircraft guns of the 15th Defense Battalion were being landed even as the fighting raged. Once the battle had ended, the 20th Marines began clearing Roi airstrip, but on D plus 5, these engineers were relieved of the task by a naval construction battalion. During this same period, various elements of the 4th Marine Division got ready to depart from Kwajalein Atoll.
Badly pummeled by American carrier planes, Japanese air power had been unable to contest the Roi-Namur operation, but early in the morning of 12 February, 12-14 enemy seaplanes struck at Roi. The raiders dropped strips of metal foil to confuse American radar and managed to catch the defenders by surprise. From the Japanese point of view, the attack was a complete success. An ammunition dump, 85 percent of the supplies stockpiled on the island, and roughly one-third of the heavy construction equipment were destroyed. Thirty Americans were killed and an estimated 400 wounded.
The raid on Roi, however, had no effect on the final phase of the 4th Marine Division overall plan. By the time of the aerial attack, Company A, 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion, and the 25th Marines had investigated the remaining islands in the northern part of Kwajalein Atoll. On 2 February, Lieutenant Colonel Hudson’s 2/25 seized eight islands. No resistance was met,
and after the first two landings, the planned artillery preparations were cancelled. Lieutenant Colonel O’Donnell led 1/25 against three islands, and Lieutenant Colonel Chambers’ 3/25 secured 39 others within four days. Once the final landings were completed, the regiment served for a time as part of the atoll garrison force. (See Map 8.)
While Colonel Cumming’s regiment was occupying the lesser islands in the north, the 17th Infantry and the 7th Reconnaissance Troop were performing a similar mission in the southern part of Kwajalein Atoll. Unlike the Marines, the soldiers encountered vicious fighting on some of the objectives. At CHAUNCEY, where the unit had landed by mistake on D-Day, the reconnaissance troop killed 135 Japanese. BURTON required the services of two battalions of the 17th Infantry, but within two days, 450 of the defenders were dead and the 7 survivors taken prisoner. In spite of the frequent opposition, the last of the southern islands was captured on 5 February.
Both assault divisions could look back on a job well done. According to intelligence estimates, the Northern Landing Force had defeated enemy garrisons numbering 3,563, while the Southern Landing Force accounted for 4,823 Japanese and Koreans. Thus, each division had overwhelmed in a series of landings a total force approximately the same size as the Betio garrison. Yet, American losses in FLINTLOCK were far fewer than the casualties suffered at Betio. The 4th Marine Division had 313 killed and 502 wounded, while the 7th Infantry Division lost 173 killed and 793 wounded.56
While the combat troops might pause to congratulate themselves, Admiral Nimitz and his staff continued to look to the future. Planners had to determine how best to capitalize on the stunning victory at Kwajalein Atoll. Should the blow at Eniwetok Atoll, tentatively scheduled for May 1944, be launched immediately?