Operation Plunder: The first wave get across the Rhine

Bursts of German anti-aircraft fire fill the sky above Wesel, Germany, as 80 Avro Lancasters of No. 3 Group attack the town in preparation for the 21st Army Group's assault across the River Rhine, (Operation VARSITY) on 24 March 1945. Photograph was taken from the British positions on the west bank of the River.
Bursts of German anti-aircraft fire fill the sky above Wesel, Germany, as 80 Avro Lancasters of No. 3 Group attack the town in preparation for the 21st Army Group’s assault across the River Rhine, (Operation VARSITY) on 24 March 1945. Photograph was taken from the British positions on the west bank of the River.

James Byrom was a pacifist by conviction and refused to serve in the combat arms of the military. Yet as a Medic he found himself in one of the most hazardous posts in the army, flying in a glider with the airborne troops that would be landing on the east bank of the Rhine. He seems to have been relatively unperturbed, and much encouraged by the morale boosting briefing that they got before departure:

The curtain raiser to what the Staff planners had tactlessly called Operation Varsity Plunder was the Brigadier’s tonic address.

‘No doubt,’ he admitted, ‘you will find some Germans when you reach the ground. But you can take it from me they will be bloody frightened. Just imagine the sensations of those wretched Germans cowering in their slit trenches when – Lo and Behold! – wave after wave of you blood- thirsty gentlemen come cascading down from the skies! What would you do in their place?…’

He paused, while imagination boggled, then pursued more sternly: ‘But let there be no misunderstanding. If anybody does shoot at you, you will ignore him completely. Your job is to hasten to the rendezvous and not to amuse yourself by returning his fire.

And if I find any of you gentlemen going to ground I will come round in person and kick his bottom. If you happen to hear a few stray bullets you needn’t think they are intended for you. That, gentlemen, is a form of egotism!’

See James Byrom: The Unfinished Man

Men of the 15th Scottish Division leave their assault craft after crossing the Rhine and double up the east bank to their assembly point near Xanten.
Men of the 15th Scottish Division leave their assault craft after crossing the Rhine and double up the east bank to their assembly point near Xanten.
British commandos of the 1st Commando Brigade man two Vickers machine guns in the shattered outskirts of Wesel. The 1st Commandos had formed the spearhead of the British assault by making a surprise crossing in assault craft on the night of 23 - 24 March under a barrage of 1500 guns
British commandos of the 1st Commando Brigade man two Vickers machine guns in the shattered outskirts of Wesel. The 1st Commandos had formed the spearhead of the British assault by making a surprise crossing in assault craft on the night of 23 – 24 March under a barrage of 1500 guns

The airborne assault would come on the 24th but the surprise river crossing was to be undertaken late on the 23rd. Trooper Albert Bellamy was with the 51st Highland Division and one of the first across the river:

On the afternoon of March 23rd, at 5 p.m., a terrible artillery barrage from numerous guns commenced to pound enemy positions inland. It was the biggest concentration of artillery I have seen over here. The barrage was augmented by several batteries of rockets which went off, hundreds at a time, with a terrifying roar.

The infantry, which incidentally was the 51st Highland Division, boarded the ‘Buffalos’ at 7 p.m., and at 7.15 p.m. we moved off to the starting point which was one and a half miles from the river.

Our troop leader was first and I was in the second craft manning the gun. We reached the river a few minutes to 9 p.m. and at exactly 9 o’clock the first ‘Buffalo’ entered the water and the rest followed. We manoeuvred into formation and headed for the opposition shore, which was just discernible through the mist. Our hearts were anywhere but in the right place, for we did not know what to expect, but the expected onslaught did not materialise, and we touched down at exactly 9.03 p.m. – three minutes which seemed like three years.

We had a very nasty moment when the enemy sent up a brilliant flare and brightly illuminated the whole river, but nothing happened.

The operation was a success and took the enemy completely by surprise.

The flag of the – Battalion was carried in the leading craft and was the first flag to cross the Rhine in the last war; thus history repeated itself. The flag is moth eaten and held together by netting. The colours are brown, red and green and mean ‘Through the mud and the blood to the green fields beyond’.

We waited until the infantry had disembarked on the river bank and then returned to the opposite bank. Owing to the bank being very steep at this side, several futile attempts were made to climb it. Meanwhile the Germans had got our range and there were several near misses by mortar and shell fire.

After a few minutes we then managed to reach the top of the bank and the proceeded to the loading area, where we loaded up with Bren carriers and other necessary equipment. A few shells dropped in the bridgehead but little if any damage was done. We then crossed the Rhine a second time and proceeded, 300 yards inland to the unloading area. Everything had been arranged so carefully and the organisation was marvellous.

On the return trip our craft brought back 20 prisoners – the first to be taken in the operation.

For the next three days we worked a ferry service without either rest or sleep, taking across vital supplies until the first bridge was built. Meanwhile a large ferry was taking across tanks to support the advancing infantry.

See 51st Highland Division

A Buffalo comes ashore on the east bank of the Rhine, 24 March 1945.
A Buffalo comes ashore on the east bank of the Rhine, 24 March 1945.
Men of the 1st Cheshire Regiment crossing the Rhine in Buffaloes at Wesel, 24 March 1945.
Men of the 1st Cheshire Regiment crossing the Rhine in Buffaloes at Wesel, 24 March 1945.
Men of the 5th Dorsetshire Regiment crossing the Rhine in a Buffalo, 28 March 1945.
Men of the 5th Dorsetshire Regiment crossing the Rhine in a Buffalo, 28 March 1945.

The US Pacific Fleet prepares for Okinawa

Vast array of American warships just offshore of naval base on Mogmog Island in the Ulithi Atoll, part of the Caroline Islands.
Vast array of American warships just offshore of naval base on Mogmog Island in the Ulithi Atoll, part of the Caroline Islands.

The battle for Iwo Jima was not yet over, but the US Fleet was readying one last amphibious island assault, Okinawa. This was the last assault before what everyone expected would be the last big battle, the invasion of Japan itself. Okinawa, closer to Japan than any of the islands that the US had seized over past three years, was needed as a staging base for that ultimate goal.

At remote Ulithi atoll in the Caroline islands the extraordinary American amphibious war machine spent a last few days assembling.

Russell Davis was a veteran of Peleliu but even he was stirred by the sight of the vast fleet at anchor:

The troop holds smelled of sickness; the side decks were whipped with rain and slippery with spray from the roll of the ship; and over the front and rear decks swarmed the sea itself as the bucking, swaying transport clawed up waves and slammed down troughs.

The last day and night we had been running through squalls, and the sea was still high-rolling when we came into the anchorage at Ulithi; and there, as far as we could look, until a dripping wet sky shut down on the far horizon, was the greatest gathering of ships in the history of the world.

There were transports, unending as common soldiers of the line. Patrol boats were like corporals; destroyers like sergeants; cruisers were lieutenants; carriers were colonels; and the battlewagons were generals. There was an army of ships arrayed in the anchorage at Ulithi.

In such an army, the great Spanish Armada would have been run over and never sighted. There had never been as big a gathering before and there never has been anything as big since. Even the sickest and most bitter Marines came to the rail to look at the sea might of their country, and to feel, no matter how scared they were, some pride that the troops were the heart of the gathering. The great ships were there to serve and protect the troops.

Chief looked at it all, shook his head in wonder, and asked a question that had occurred to all of us: “How can we lose?” Murph said: “We can’t lose. But you know something? This is the first time in this war I’ve really felt sure of it.”

Everyone else agreed with Murph. After Ulithi there was never any question about our certain victory. The only question was When? For the next few days, as our transport moved around the anchorage, we hung at the rail, identifying the different ships. I had never seen a Landing Ship Dock (LSD) before. But there it was, with its high, blunt prow and its cranes. Ships could be put right inside it. I had never seen a new battlewagon or the big carriers. Our early carriers had been midgets.

Even when we coasted by the dark and gaping holes blasted in the side of the carrier Franklin, we were sure that nothing could hurt us: we had too many ships. And even when the maps and photos of the beach and hills of Okinawa were brought aboard – when we could see the sea wall that had to be scaled, and the high swirls of ground beyond the beach – we still felt confident.

“This will be our last big one,” the rumor said. “This will cave-in the Japs. We’re throwing the whole bundle at ’em on this one.”

See R. Davis: Marine at War.

Also impressed by the spectacle at Ulithi was another Marine, E. B. Sledge:

We lined the rails of our transport and looked out over the vast fleet in amazement. We saw ships of every description: huge new battleships, cruisers, sleek destroyers, and a host of fast escort craft. Aircraft carriers were there in greater numbers than any of us had ever seen before. Every conceivable type of amphibious vessel was arrayed. It was the biggest invasion fleet ever assembled in the Pacic, and we were awed by the sight of it.

Because of tides and winds, the ships swung about on their anchor chains, and each day the fleet looked new and different. When I came topside each morning, I felt disoriented. It was a strange sensation, as though I were in a different frame of reference and had to learn my surroundings anew.

The first afternoon at Ulithi a fellow mortarman said, “Break out the field glasses, and let’s see how many kinds of ships we can identify.” We passed the mortar section’s field glasses around and whiled away many hours studying the different ships.

Suddenly someone gasped, “Look over there at that hospital ship off our port bow! Look at them nurses! Gimme them field glasses!”

Lining the rail of the hospital ship were about a dozen American nurses looking out over the fleet: A scuffle erupted among us over who would use the field glasses first, but we all finally had a look at the girls. We whistled and waved, but we were too far away to be heard.

At Ulithi we received briefings on the coming battle for Okinawa. This time there was no promise of a short operation. “This is expected to be the costliest amphibious campaign of the war,” a lieutenant said. “We will be hitting an island about 350 miles from the Japs’ home islands, so you can expect them to fight with more determination than ever. We can expect 80 to 85 percent casualties on the beach.”

A buddy next to me leaned over and whispered, “How’s that for boosting the troops’ morale?” I only groaned.

See E. B. Sledge: With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

USS Wasp, USS Yorktown, USS Hornet, USS Hancock, USS Ticonderoga, and other warships at Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, 8 Dec 1944.
USS Wasp, USS Yorktown, USS Hornet, USS Hancock, USS Ticonderoga, and other warships at Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, 8 Dec 1944.

Kuribayashi prepares to meet his end on Iwo Jima

Several M4A3 Sherman tanks equipped with flamethrowers were used to clear Japanese bunkers.
Several M4A3 Sherman tanks equipped with flamethrowers were used to clear Japanese bunkers.

On the 16th March the US Forces on the island of Iwo Jima had declared the island “occupied”. The statement, signalling at least the beginning of the end, was partly in response to the concern at home over the very heavy casualties.

The fighting was still far from over even if it might be described as “contained”, hundreds of Japanese were still hiding in their bunkers and doing everything possible to continue to cause casualties to the Americans.

At the same time General Kuribayashi, the Japanese commander, was considering his position. He had masterminded the tenacious defence of the island and inspired his men to fight to the end. His aim to cause maximum casualties, rather than die gloriously in the traditional suicidal Banzai charge, had been achieved. But, with his men weak from starvation and parched from lack of water, he realised there was little time left for them to carry on in this manner.

General Tadamichi Kuribayashi.
General Tadamichi Kuribayashi.

He was still managing to communicate with Tokyo via an increasingly intermittent radio connection with the Japanese occupied island of Chichi Jima:

I have 400 men under my command. The enemy besieged us by firing and flame from their tanks. In particular, they are trying to approach the entrance of our cave with explosives. My men and officers are still fighting.

The enemy’s front lines are 300 meters from us, and they are attacking by tank firing. They advised us to surrender by loudspeaker, but we only laughed at this childish trick, and we did not set ourselves against them.

On the 17th Kuribayashi radioed his final message to Tokyo:

The battle is entering its final chapter. Since the enemy’s landing, the gallant fighting of the men under my command has been such that even the gods would weep.

In particular, I humbly rejoice in the fact that they have continued to fight bravely though utterly empty-handed and ill-equipped against a land, sea, and air attack of a material superiority such as surpasses the imagination.

One after another they are falling in the ceaseless and ferocious attacks of the enemy. For this reason, the situation has arisen whereby I must disappoint your expectations and yield this important place to the hands of the enemy. With humility and sincerity, I offer my repeated apologies.

Our ammunition is gone and our water dried up. Now is the time for us to make the final counterattack and fight gallantly, conscious of the Emperor’s favor, not begrudging our efforts though they turn our bones to powder and pulverize our bodies.

I believe that until the island is recaptured, the Emperor’s domain will be eternally insecure. I therefore swear that even when I have become a ghost I shall look forward to turning the defeat of the Imperial Army to victory.

I stand now at the beginning of the end. At the same time as revealing my inmost feelings, I pray earnestly for the unfailing victory and security of the Empire. Farewell for all eternity

It was with this message that he sent the traditional ‘death poem’ of Japanese soldiers to his commanders, setting out his sentiments as he faced death:

Unable to complete this heavy task for our country
Arrows and bullets all spent, so sad we fall.
But unless I smite the enemy,
My body cannot rot in the field.
Yea, I shall be born again seven times
And grasp the sword in my hand.
When ugly weeds cover this island,
My sole thought shall be the Imperial Land.

It would not be until 23rd March that Kuribayashi sent his final message to Chichi Jima:

All officers and men of Chichi Jima – goodbye from Iwo.

Nothing more is known about how Kuribashi met his end but it is likely that he died in the final attack from his position in ‘The Gorge’ on the 26th March. It was not a suicidal Banzai charge but a silent, co-ordinated attempt to inflict one last blow against the Americans. They crept into US positions and bayoneted soldiers as they slept before the alarm was raised – and then they were overcome during hand to hand fighting. It is believed that Kuribayashi removed his officers insignia so that his body would not be identified.

Later his son Taro Kuribayashi was to claim:

My father had believed it shameful to have his body discovered by the enemy even after death, so he had previously asked his two soldiers to come along with him, one in front and the other behind, with a shovel in hand. In case of his death, he had wanted them to bury his body there and then.

It seems that my father and the soldiers were killed by shells, and he was buried at the foot of a tree in Chidori village, along the beach near Osaka mountain. Afterwards, General Smith spent a whole day looking for his body to pay respect accordingly and to perform a burial, but in vain.

For the Japanese perspective on the fighting on Iwo Jima see Fighting Spirit: The Memoirs of Major Yoshitaka Horie and the Battle of Iwo Jima and Kumiko Kakehashi: Letters From Iwo Jima.

Out of the gaping mouths of Coast Guard and Navy Landing Craft, rose the great flow of invasion supplies to the blackened sands of Iwo Jima, a few hours after the Marines had wrested their foothold on the vital island.
Out of the gaping mouths of Coast Guard and Navy Landing Craft, rose the great flow of invasion supplies to the blackened sands of Iwo Jima, a few hours after the Marines had wrested their foothold on the vital island.

Kamikaze pilots find the remote US base at Ulithi

 A Life magazine image of the US Naval base at Ulithi atoll in the Caroline islands. The remote Pacific location, with an anchorage larger than Pearl Harbour, was used asa staging base in preparation fro major amphibious operations, including Okinawa.
A Life magazine image of the US Naval base at Ulithi atoll in the Caroline islands. The remote Pacific location, with an anchorage larger than Pearl Harbour, was used as a staging base in preparation for major amphibious operations, including the invasion of Okinawa.
USS Iowa in a floating drydock at Manus Island, Ulithi Atoll, 28 December 1944.
USS Iowa in a floating drydock at Manus Island, Ulithi Atoll, 28 December 1944.

The disparity in resources between the United States and Japan had now become quite incredible. It was hard to believe that the Japanese had calculated, just over three years before, that a single knockout blow at Pearl Harbour could overcome the Americans. While one fleet of hundreds of U.S. Navy ships was still besieging the island of Iwo Jima, another fleet was gathering at the remote base at Ulithi, preparing for the invasion of Okinawa. The U.S. Navy had occupied the islands, unopposed, in September 1944.

The supply situation for many Japanese bases was now imperilled by their lack of shipping, with their transports now constantly threatened by Allied submarines. Many Japanese troops had their food strictly rationed. On Iwo Jima their men had been on a very restricted diet for a long time and they struggled to find enough drinking water. By contrast the Americans were able to provide their men with ice cream.

Within a month of the occupation of Ulithi, a complete floating base was in operation. Six thousand ship fitters, artificers, welders, carpenters, and electricians arrived aboard repair ships, destroyer tenders, and floating dry docks. The USS Ajax had an air-conditioned optical shop and a metal fabrication shop with a supply of base metals from which she could make any alloy to form any part needed. The USS Abatan, which looked like a big tanker, distilled fresh water and baked bread and pies. The ice cream barge made 500 gallons a shift. The dry docks towed to Ulithi were large enough to lift dry a 45,000 ton battleship. The small island of Mog Mog became a rest and recreation site for sailors.

Fleet oilers sortied from Ulithi to meet the task forces at sea, refueling the warships a short distance from their combat operational areas. The result was something never seen before: a vast floating service station enabling the entire Pacific fleet to operate indefinitely at unprecedented distances from its mainland bases. Ulithi was as far away from the US Naval base at San Francisco as San Francisco was from London, England. The Japanese had considered that the vastness of the Pacific Ocean would make it very difficult for the US to sustain operations in the western Pacific. With the Ulithi naval base to refit, repair and resupply, many ships were able to deploy and operate in the western Pacific for a year or more without returning to the Naval base at Pearl Harbor.

Source: Wikipedia

40mm mount in action at Ulithi. At left are twin .50 cal. guns on the tail of a PBM on board.
40mm mount in action at Ulithi. At left are twin .50 cal. guns on the tail of a PBM on board U.S.S. Cumberland Sound (AV-17).

On the island itself was a young Marine Corps pilot, still training with his squadron, in preparation for combat with an enemy they had yet to meet. Samuel Hynes was to go on to write a reflective memoir of his time in the Marines, as befits a man who is now Professor of Literature at Princeton University:

Out in the lagoon the warships gathered and waited, but as we flew over them, coming and going on our solitary patrols, they did not look like menacing machines designed to burn and drown men, but like delicate abstractions – slender, tapered shapes at rest on the smooth bright water, part of the static pattern of our lives.

And so when the air-raid sirens began to howl one evening in the early dark, we took it for a drill. After all, the nearest Japanese planes were away off in the Philippines, and there weren’t many of them left even there.

As the island lights went out, we left the club and gathered curiously at the lagoon-end of the landing strip, and watched the fleet black out – a ship here, a ship there, one or two of the big ones delaying, and then suddenly blinking out, until at last the whole lagoon was dark. Not a very successful drill, I thought; it had been far too slow.

And then, astonishingly, anti-aircraft guns began to fire, and tracers sprayed up into the darkness, as though the lights that had burned across the waters of the lagoon were being hurled into the sky. I began to feel exposed, standing there on the runway while the guns fired; but no one else moved, so I didn’t.

Across the lagoon a plane screamed into a dive, higher and higher pitched, and there was a flash and an explosion, and an instant later another explosion in what seemed the center of the moored ships. Then darkness and silence, until the all- clear sounded, and lights began to come on in the harbor again.

It had been a kamikaze raid. The Japanese planes had flown all the way from the main islands, touching at the Philippines. They had planned to refuel at Yap, and then fly on to attack the fleet at Ulithi; but bad navigation, bad weather, bad luck, whatever it was, had delayed them, and sent some planes back.

Others had crash-landed on the Yap beach. Only three reached Ulithi. One was shot down; one crashed into the deck of the carrier Randolph, where the crew was crowded into the hangar deck watching a movie; and one, taking an island for a large ship, dove on Mogmog and blew up a kitchen.

The whole lasted perhaps fifteen minutes. We were excited by it – perhaps entertained is a more precise word – it was a spectacle, like a son et lumiére, with noise, light, explosions.

We didn’t know what was happening to human lives while we watched, but even if we had, I wonder if it would have mattered. We were a mile or so from the Randolph, and perhaps a mile is too far to project the imagination to another man’s death. We took it as a sign that the war was still with us, that we still had an enemy, and went to bed heartened by the incident.

See Samuel Hynes: Flights of Passage: Recollections of a World War II Aviator

Yokosuka P1Y "Frances" shot down next to USS Ommaney Bay (CVE-79),  0945 on December 15, 1944
Yokosuka P1Y “Frances” shot down next to USS Ommaney Bay (CVE-79), 0945 on December 15, 1944
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CV-15) alongside repair ship USS Jason (ARH-1) at Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, 13 March 1945, showing damage to her aft flight deck resulting from a kamikaze hit on 11 March. The photograph was taken from a floatplane from the light cruiser USS Miami (CL-89).
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CV-15) alongside repair ship USS Jason (ARH-1) at Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands, 13 March 1945, showing damage to her aft flight deck resulting from a kamikaze hit on 11 March. The photograph was taken from a floatplane from the light cruiser USS Miami (CL-89).

The grinding battle of Iwo Jima continues

 D plus 3 day. Because of rapid advance made this morning by 1st Bn, 26th Marines, many Jap pillboxes and snipers were harassing troops. Photo’s of men moving near airfield.
D plus 3 day. Because of rapid advance made this morning by 1st Bn, 26th Marines, many Jap pillboxes and snipers were harassing troops. Photo’s of men moving near airfield.

The battle for Iwo Jima continued as intensely as ever. The American objective to split the Japanese forces in two had still not been achieved, even though Naval ships had come close inshore to provide supporting fire when the Japanese bunkers were identified.

Jim Craig was a platoon commander with the Marines on Iwo Jima. In the 28 days on the island his platoon of 41 men would receive 19 replacements, out of the total of 60 men who served in the platoon, 20 were killed and 30 were evacuated wounded. Although not a true first person account, this is the story as related directly by Craig to his nephew, and gives a graphic understanding of the nature of the battle:

Jim’s primary job as leader of 1st Platoon was to lead his men as they advanced toward the day’s objective. At first they advanced slowly and cautiously, ready to dive for cover the moment the Japanese started shooting. They seldom saw a Japanese soldier shoot at them.

As they advanced across the rugged terrain, they suddenly came under an intense mortar barrage. They all hit the deck and crawled to the nearest cover. Jim and five of his men dove into a large shell hole while mortar shells landed all around them. The noise was deafening as one round after another pounded into their position. Fortunately, the soft volcanic ash attenuated the round’s blast effect. Still, the concussion was tremendous.

The Marines instinctively covered their helmets and ducked their heads as sand and dirt rained down on them from close hits. The sound of deadly shrapnel zinging overhead was unmistakable. Anybody unfortunate enough to be caught in the open was killed immediately or he received mutilating wounds.

If one of these shells landed next to a Marine, he might simply disintegrate in the blast. Later, bits and pieces of human flesh and bone and the odd piece of uniform or boot might be found, but sometimes nothing was left by which the body could be identified for burial. In some cases the coffin ofa dead Marine shipped home to the family was empty — there was simply nothing left to send home.

The barrage was so intense that Jim was forced to concede the ground, and he yelled to his men that they were pulling back. The mortar fire would have to be silenced one way or another before they could move forward. The best way to get his men safely out was to order them back in pairs between salvos. After the next salvo landed, he turned to the two nearest men in the hole with him and yelled, “Go.”

When they were safely away he waited for the next salvo. When it landed, he immediately pointed to the next two and yelled, “Go.” They jumped out of the shell hole and started to run. They had gone only about ten feet when the next salvo landed near them.

Jim and the remaining Marine huddled in the shell hole and waited for the next salvo and then they, too, got up to run back. As he ran from the hole he nearly stepped on what was left of the body of one of the two men who had left before he had. Its head, left arm, and the entire left side of its torso had been blown off; they were simply gone. Blood and shreds of tissue were scattered all around.

For the most part Jim was able to maintain a detached, stoic attitude over the loss of his men. Naturally, it grieved him to lose any of his men, but he had to keep his emotions in check for the sake of the men still in the fight. If they saw their platoon leader start to lose it, they, too, would be adversely affected.

On the surface he might appear to be cold and callous toward the death of one ofhis men, but he had to be. The rest of the platoon depended on him to keep his cool. He was their leader, and one of the best ways to lead is by example. Even with the obscene mutilation of the Marine’s body, Jim had to put aside his emotions and revulsion and carry on with what had to be done.

The battle did not allow him time to mourn. He still had a job to do that required his full attention. The horrible way in which the Marine had died shocked Jim. He leaned up against the side of rock and sat there, unmoving. His men noticed that he appeared to be in a daze. Sergeant Darnell, concerned by this uncharac- teristic behavior, radioed the situation back to Company CP. After a minute or two, Jim seemed to snap out of his catatonia. Darnell noticed this and radioed back, “He’s okay now.”

Jim got up and yelled over to Darnell to have some stretcher bearers brought up to collect the body.

The second Marine lay on the ground with blood oozing from his back. Miraculously, he had survived the blast. It had blown him about ten yards from Jim’s shell hole, and shrapnel had peppered his back, but he was still alive. One man dragged him back to the shell hole. After another salvo landed, they got out and quickly carried him back to safety.

A stretcher was brought up, and the wounded Marine was taken back to Battalion where he received medical care. He survived his wounds and was soon evacuated to the offshore hospital ship where he received definitive care.

Later, another stretcher was sent up to the front to retrieve the dead Marine’s body.

The Marines took care of their own. Every effort was made to get the dead and wounded off the front lines as soon as possible, even at the risk to others. With rare exceptions they never left a wounded man for more than a few hours. It was part of the Marine psyche. They simply would not leave one of their own out on the battlefield to fend for himself.

See The Last Lieutenant: A Foxhole View of the Epic Battle for Iwo Jima This book presents Jim Craig’s story, as told to his nephew, John C. Shively.

Battle at the foot of Mount Suribachi on D-Day plus three.
Battle at the foot of Mount Suribachi on D-Day plus three.

U.S. Marines raise the flag on Mount Suribachi

First Iwo Jima Flag Raising. Small flag carried ashore by the 2d Battalion, 28th Marines is planted atop Mount Suribachi at 1020, 23 February 1945
First Iwo Jima Flag Raising. Small flag carried ashore by the 2d Battalion, 28th Marines is planted atop Mount Suribachi at 1020, 23 February 1945

On the 23rd February the Marines were making good but bloody progress on the Island of Iwo Jima, where they had landed on the 19th. The capture of Mount Suribachi was an early priority since it gave the Japanese a vantage point from which they could direct their guns.

1Lt. Harold G. Schrier, executive officer of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division volunteered to lead a 40-man combat patrol up the mountain when the platoon leader was injured. They captured the top of the mountain some time after 10am and set about raising the United States flag on a piece of piping that had been used by the Japanese to capture rainwater.

The Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal was coming ashore at the moment when this flag went up. It was just a speck in the distance but he immediately recognised its symbolic significance, telling General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith, who was accompanying him:

Holland, the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years

It was then decided that a larger, more visible, flag was needed on the summit. The occasion would be photographed not just by the Marines but by the international media as represented by the Associated Press.

However the photographer, Joe Rosenthal, had not been especially well prepared for the event:

Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen the men start the flag up. I swung my camera and shot the scene. That is how the picture was taken, and when you take a picture like that, you don’t come away saying you got a great shot. You don’t know.

The photograph that he took has gone on to become probably the most reproduced photographic image in history.

The second raising of the flag over Iwo Jima, this photograph was destined to become one of the iconic images of the war.
The second raising of the flag over Iwo Jima, this photograph was destined to become one of the iconic images of the war. Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, by Joe Rosenthal / The Associated Press
Marines at Iwo Jima 3 cent postage stamp issued Washington, D.C. July 11, 1945, 137,321,000 stamps were sold.

Mount Suribachi loomed over the whole island, the dominant feature whose capture in most battles would have signalled the end of the engagement. In fact the battle for the island was very far from over, the Marines might be holding the high ground but the greater part of the Japanese forces remained intact underground. The raising of the flag was a small part of the events on the island, where the battle raged as intensely as ever that day. Of the 40 men in the combat team that first climbed Mount Suribachi, 36 would killed or wounded in the following few weeks.

One weapon was to prove invaluable to the US forces in clearing out the deeply entrenched Japanese, the flame thrower. The operators of these relatively crude devices were to suffer very heavy casualties themselves. They were walking around the battlefield encumbered with a heavy weapon, clearly identifiable as a special threat to the Japanese, when it only took one bullet to send them into a blazing inferno.

Hershel Woodrow "Woody" Williams, Medal of Honor.
Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, Medal of Honor.

On 23rd February, the actions of one man give us some idea of the nature of the fighting. Hershel W. “Woody” Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Demolition Sergeant serving with the First Battalion, Twenty-First Marines, Third Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Island, 23 February 1945.

Quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through the network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines and black, volcanic sands, Corporal Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions.

Covered only by four riflemen, he fought desperately for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flame throwers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another.

On one occasion he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flame thrower through the air vent, kill the occupants and silence the gun; on another he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon.

His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strong points encountered by his regiment and aided in enabling his company to reach its’ [sic] objective.

Corporal Williams’ aggressive fighting spirit and valiant devotion to duty throughout this fiercely contested action sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

An Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary, this 20 minute Technicolor production unfolds with graphic energy the nearly – portraying the month long battle for Iwo Jima:

TERROR – The terror of the Japanese soldiers in the dugouts and pillboxes on Iwo Jima is the Marine flame-throwing man. Briefly, this one is outlined against the bleak sky as he rushes forward into position to assault a Jap pillbox on Motoyama Airfield Number Two.
TERROR – The terror of the Japanese soldiers in the dugouts and pillboxes on Iwo Jima is the Marine flame-throwing man. Briefly, this one is outlined against the bleak sky as he rushes forward into position to assault a Jap pillbox on Motoyama Airfield Number Two.

US Marines invade beaches of Iwo Jima

Mount Suribachi taken on the morning of D-Day, 19 February 1945.
Mount Suribachi taken on the morning of D-Day, 19 February 1945.
The first wave of landing craft at Iwo Jima, 19 Feb 1945
The first wave of landing craft at Iwo Jima, 19 Feb 1945
LCVP’s approach Iwo Jima.
LCVP’s approach Iwo Jima.

The island of Iwo Jima, an isolated collection of rock and sand stuck out in the Pacific 660 miles from Japan, was the objective for Operation Detachment on 19th February. Iwo Jima had been comprehensively blasted by bombs and shells for the previous 74 days. The Marines who landed here today were to discover that all this explosive had had very little effect on reducing the enemy.

The Japanese commander, General Kuribayashi had been preparing for this moment since June 1944. His intention was to inflict maximum casualties on the American forces in a defensive battle fought from 5,000 undergound bunkers and eleven miles of tunnel. He was to urge his troops to fight to the death:

Keep on fighting even if you are wounded in the battle. Do not get taken prisoner. At the end, stab the enemy as he stabs you.

Iwo Jima – Amphibious tractors, jammed with Fourth Division Marines, churn toward Iwo Jima at H-hour. These troops were the initial assault force.
Iwo Jima – Amphibious tractors, jammed with Fourth Division Marines, churn toward Iwo Jima at H-hour. These troops were the initial assault force.

George W. Nations was in a Marine Corps tank:

At 0800 hours the heaviest bombardment in history per square mile was fired upon Iwo, every ship within firing range opened up with all guns firing. It was a fireworks display I’ll never forget. The island was now totally obscured from view by the dust from the bombardment.

Promptly at 0900 hours the firing stopped and the first wave of amphibious tractors went ashore. At this time we are still about three or four miles offshore, our tanks, “B-Company” is landing in reserve. It was very exciting now sitting on top of our tank turret watching through field glasses as the Marines go ashore in wave after wave. First, armored amphibious tractors shell the beach, then amphibious personnel carriers land with men, then Higgins Boats, all putting large numbers of Marines ashore into the hostile environment of Iwos’ volcanic ash beaches. About 1000 hours we saw our first tanks slowly making their way up the beach. It seemed like forever before they moved up from the beach and out of sight.

All this time our landing craft, LSM-141 was moving closer to the line of departure that was about 2,000 yards off the beach. The old battleship New York is only a hundred yards or so from us, firing broadside into the island. The noise was unreal. We are now inside the tank. Lt. Steiner gives us the word to button-up. We know we are now very near the beach. The only thing we can now hear is our tank engine running.

Since I am a crew member in the Platoon Leaders’ tank, we are first in line to disembark. At last we feel the surge as the LSM slams ashore at about 7 to 8 knots putting us high and dry on the beach. Our bow doors opened and the ramp fell. Straight ahead of us is Iwo Jima, Red Beach One, the time is about 1330 hours.

I’ll never forget the first thing I saw as the ramp fell, giving us a clear view. The first terrace was only 30 to 40 feet in front of us. Marines were dug into this terrace or trying to dig in. The foxholes would cave in before the hole was large enough for a man to get his body below the surface. Their faces were covered with black volcanic ash form trying to take cover. They looked much like an ostrich putting his head into the sand, only to find his body still exposed. Their faces were very young and showing unashamed fear.

At first I did not understand why they were so afraid but as our tank turned right on the beach I began to realize why. The beach was littered with Jeeps, trucks, amphibious tractors, Higgins Boats, men and equipment in various degrees of destruction. We were able to go only a short distance before we had to stop because of a Jeep stuck in the narrow stretch of beach between the terrace and the surf. We were contemplating driving over the Jeep when a Marine jumped in, started the engine and because he was unable to drive forward, put it in reverse and backed into the surf, giving our tank clear passage.

To my right was an amphibious tractor. A large shell had blown its armored turret inward. It’s name in bold yellow letters, ‘Lena Horn’. Every time I hear her name or see her picture, my mind sees this amphibious tractor in the surf with its turret twisted in an awkward fashion from the explosion of this shell, the surf splashing over her. The crew must still be inside, all dead.

We continue up the beach for about two-hundred yards dodging the various obstacles and looking for our guide who was supposed to meet us. We finally reach the location where the guide was supposed to be and stop. We know minefields are ahead. Before coming ashore, we had discussed removing the waterproof stacks mounted on our exhaust and intake manifold at the first opportunity.

The exhaust re-circulates through the intake causing the engine to overheat in approximately forty-five minutes. We are getting close to that time, so I told Lt. Steiner this pause was our opportunity for getting rid of these stacks. With his okay, I opened my hatch and quickly leaped out onto the engine compartment just behind the turret. The terrific noise of gunfire and shells landing was a real shocker. Never had I heard so much incoming and outgoing fire in all my life and I’m outside the tank, not inside.

I scratched and clawed with my fingers and finally pealed away the waterproof tape so that the latches could be released enabling me to push the stacks off the tank. I’m now sitting behind the turret for cover thinking about climbing on top of the turret to get back inside. I’m looking out to sea. We are about 30 yards from the surf. A Higgins Boat is just reaching the beach loaded with Marines when a shell lands on the starboard side near the stern. Marines are running from the boat as the ramp falls. They leave about one-third of their men inside.

After forty years I can still see their lifeless forms hanging over the sides of this Higgins Boat. The boat sinks and becomes part of the destructive scene as it washes back and forth in the surf. There was nothing anyone could do for the men inside the boat. Without thinking of my own safety, I slowly climbed inside our tank, almost in shock from this experience. This was to be only one of many such incidents that sometimes keep me awake at night.

Read the whole of George W. Nations account at One Man Remembers

Bloody, inch by inch. In the face of withering enemy fire Fifth Division Marine invaders of Iwo Jima work their way up the slope from Red Beach #1 toward Suribachi Yama, completely hidden in the left background by the smoke of the battle.
Bloody, inch by inch. In the face of withering enemy fire Fifth Division Marine invaders of Iwo Jima work their way up the slope from Red Beach #1 toward Suribachi Yama, completely hidden in the left background by the smoke of the battle.

Burma – the Fourteenth Army get across the Irrawaddy

Troops crossing the Irrawaddy River at Katha by boat, January 1945.
Troops crossing the Irrawaddy River at Katha by boat, January 1945.
A lorry of 36th Infantry Division enters the town of Tigyiang during the advance down the Irrawaddy Valley towards Mandalay, 22 December 1944.
A lorry of 36th Infantry Division enters the town of Tigyiang during the advance down the Irrawaddy Valley towards Mandalay, 22 December 1944.

In Burma the tables had turned. After the desperate battles at Kohima and Imphal to prevent the Japanese mounting an invasion of India, the Japanese had pulled back into Burma. The British Fourteenth Army was now advancing south through Burma. There were tremendous transportation problems, and in many areas they were forced to build their own roads. To add to the difficulties the bulk of their air transport was suddenly and unexpectedly transferred to the Chinese front, to shore up positions there. However the largest natural obstacle was the great Irrawaddy River. There was virtually no specialised transport available and the Engineers had to build a range of relatively crude rafts in short order.

On the 14th January the Indian 19th Division had begun crossing at one of the river’s narrower points, where it was only some 500 yards across in the low season of January. General Sir William Slim describes the importance of securing the bridgehead on the other side:

A third battalion crossed on the night of the 16th/17th and, for the first time, on the 17th, the enemy, realizing that a serious attempt at crossing was in progress, collected his rather scattered troops and attacked heavily. This he continued at intervals throughout the day, but all these attacks were beaten off.

By the 19th, the whole of 64 Brigade was in the Kyaukmyaung bridgehead, and was steadily expanding it against increasing opposition. On the night of the 20th/21st, after heavy artillery preparation, the Japanese put in several determined attacks, which were again repulsed with heavy loss after hand-to-hand fighting.

In spite of mounting resistance and growing casualties, the brigade pressed outwards and seized a ridge of scrub-covered rock, eight hundred feet high, parallel to the river, three miles inland, and a bare peak rising abruptly from the river bank, two and a half miles south of the original crossing. These successes deprived the Japanese of direct observation over the bridgehead, blinded their artillery and thus, in fact, ensured its retention.

Farther north, the bridgehead at Thabeikkyin had been reinforced just in time to throw back a series of savage counter-attacks. The Japanese, confused by numerous feints and patrol crossings elsewhere, had not been quick to decide which were the real crossings, and even then the took some time to concentrate against them.

Every hour of this delay was invaluable to the sweating 19th Division, ceaselessly ferrying men and supplies across the river on almost anything that would float.

See William Slim: Defeat Into Victory

The men in the vanguard could have little doubt about the importance of their role. One man was to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his ‘selfless devotion to duty’ in fighting off the Japanese counter-attacks:

In Burma, on the night of 19th / 20th January 1945, Lance Naik Sher Shah commanded the left forward section of his platoon. At 19:30 hours a Japanese platoon attacked his post. Realizing that overwhelming numbers would probably destroy his section, he, by himself, stalked the enemy from their rear and broke up their attack by firing into their midst. He killed the platoon commander and six other Japanese and, after their withdrawal, crawled back to his section post.

At 00:15 hours the Japanese, who were now reinforced with a company, started to form up for another attack. Sher Shah heard their officers giving orders and bayonets being fixed prior to the assault. Again he left his section post and, in spite of Japanese covering from small arms and mortars, crawled forward and saw Japanese officers and men grouped together. He fired into this group and they again broke up and started to withdraw in disorder.

Whilst on his way back for the second time he was hit by a mortar bomb, which shattered his right leg. He regained his position and propping himself against the side of the trench, continued firing and encouraging his men. When asked whether he was hurt, he replied that it was only slight. Some time afterwards it was discovered his right leg was missing.

The Japanese again started forming up for another attack. In spite of his severe wounds and considerable loss of blood, and very heavy Japanese supporting fire, Lance Naik Sher Shah again left his section post and crawled forward, firing into their midst at point blank range. He continued firing until for the third time the Japanese attack was broken up and until he was shot through the head, from which he subsequently died. Twenty-three dead and four wounded Japanese, including an officer, were found in daylight immediately in front of his position.

His initiative and indomitable courage throughout this very critical situation undoubtedly averted the over-running of his platoon, and was the deciding factor in defeating the Japanese attacks. His supreme self-sacrifice, disregard of danger and selfless devotion to duty, were an inspiration to all his comrades throughout the Battalion.

Sher Shah was born on 14 February 1917 in Chakrala Village, near Mianwali, North Punjab, India ( now North West Frontier, Pakistan ). Sher Shah’s Battalion 7/16 Punjab Regiment, affectionately known as “Saat Solah Punjab” is now a part of the Pakistan Army, proudly known as the “Sher Shah Battalion”.

Indian troops coax mules into the water for the 500 yard swim across the Irrawaddy River, January 1945.
Indian troops coax mules into the water for the 500 yard swim across the Irrawaddy River, January 1945.
Gurkhas hold onto their mules as they swim across the Irrawaddy River in Burma during the advance towards Mandalay, January 1945.
Gurkhas hold onto their mules as they swim across the Irrawaddy River in Burma during the advance towards Mandalay, January 1945.

USS Louisville’s second Kamikaze attack in two days

The U.S. Navy battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) leads USS Colorado (BB-45), USS Louisville (CA-28), USS Portland (CA-33), and USS Columbia (CL-56) into Lingayen Gulf before the landing on Luzon, Philippines, in January 1945.
The U.S. Navy battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) leads USS Colorado (BB-45), USS Louisville (CA-28), USS Portland (CA-33), and USS Columbia (CL-56) into Lingayen Gulf before the landing on Luzon, Philippines, in January 1945.

As the US Navy began the bombardment of Luzon, ‘softening up’ the defences prior to amphibious assault, they encountered the Japanese suicide ‘Kamikaze’ planes in ever more persistent attacks. With Japanese airbases within easy reach and the use of Kamikaze pilots now one of their main tactics the US ships had to face an unprecedented onslaught, with many ships being hit more than once.

The USS Louisville had been hit on the 5th January with one man killed and 52 wounded, including the captain. The following day she was attacked by six successive planes, five were shot down but one got through:

The USS Louisville is struck by a kamikaze Yokosuka D4Y at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945
The USS Louisville is struck by a kamikaze Yokosuka D4Y at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945

John Duffy was one of the men on board the USS Louisville dealing with the aftermath:

All of a sudden, the ship shuddered and I knew we were hit again. I was in charge of the 1st Division men and I yelled. “We’re hit, let’s go men!” I was the first man out the Turret door followed by Lt. Commander Foster and Lt. Hastin, our Division Officer, then a dozen more men. The starboard side of the ship was on fire from the focsle deck down.

One almost naked body was laying about ten feet from the turret with the top of his head missing. It was the Kamikaze pilot that had hit us. He made a direct hit on the Communications deck.

As the men poured out of the turret behind me they just stood there in shock. Explosions were still coming from the ammunition lockers at the scene of the crash. We could see fire there too. Injured men were screaming for help on the Communications Deck above us. I ordered two men to put out the fire on the starboard side by leaning over the side with a hose. That fire was coming from a ruptured aviation fuel pipe that runs the full length of the forecastle on the outside of the ship’s hull. That fuel pipe was probably hit by machine gun bullets from the Kamikaze just before he slammed into us.

Although there was no easy access to the deck above us, I ordered several men to scale up the side of the bulkhead (wall) and aid the badly burned victims who were standing there like zombies. I also ordered three men to crawl under the rear of Turret 1’s overhang, open the hatch there, and get the additional fire hose from Officers Quarters. These three orders were given only seconds apart and everyone responded immediately, but when they got near the dead Jap’s body, which was lying right in the way, it slowed them down.

I yelled, “Carl Neff, grab his legs.” As I leaned over the body, I noticed that all he had on was the wrap-around white cloth in his groin area. I then grabbed him under the arms and lifted. When I did this, his head rolled back and his brain fell out in one piece onto the deck as though it had never been part of his body. I told Carl, “Right over the side with him.” Then I immediately went back and scooped up his brain in both hands and threw it over the side. To the men who had no assignment, I shouted, “Get scrubbers and clean up this mess.”

John Duffy was awarded an individual commendation for his actions : “displayed outstanding diligence, skill, bravery, and intelligence in combating fires and rendering aid to the wounded.” This account appears at Kamikaze images which explores both American and Japanese attitudes to the Kamikaze pilots.

The strike on the Louisville was also notable for the death of Rear Adm.Theodore E. Chandler, commanding the battleships and cruisers in the Lingayen Gulf. He was badly burnt when his Flag bridge was engulfed in flame – but later waited in line for treatment with the other men. However his lungs had been scorched by the petroleum flash and he died the following day.

USS Columbia is attacked by a kamikaze off Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945.
USS Columbia is attacked by a kamikaze off Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945.

A list of ships with their casualties resulting from “Kamikaze” hits in the Philippine area during the month of January:

USS Cowanesque (2 killed, 2 wounded);
USS Dyke (sunk with all hands);
USS Ommaney Bay (6 killed, 65 wounded, 85 missing at time of report);
USS Helm (6 wounded); USS Louisville (1 killed, 75 wounded);
USS Orca (4 wounded);
HMAS Australia (first hit: 25 killed, 30 wounded; second hit: 14 killed, 26 wounded);
USS Manila Bay (10 killed, 75 wounded);
USS Walke (15 killed, 32 wounded);
USS R.P. Leary(1 wounded);
USS Newcomb (2 killed, 11 wounded);
USS New Mexico (30 killed, 87 wounded); USS Brooks (3 killed, 10 wounded);
USS Minneapolis (2 wounded);
USS California (41 killed, 155 wounded, 3 missing at time of report);
USS Southard (6 wounded);
USS Columbia (first attack: 20 killed, 35 wounded; second attack: 17 killed, 8 wounded, 7 missing at time of the report);
USS Louisville (28 killed, 6 wounded, 10 missing at time ofreport);
USS Long (7 wounded);
USS LST 918 (4 killed, 4 wounded);
USS LST 912 (4 killed, 3 wounded);
USS Callaway (30 killed, 20 wounded);
USS Kitkun Bay (16 killed, 15 wounded);
USS Mississippi (8 wounded);
USS Leray Wilson (7 killed, 3 wounded, 3 missing at time of report);
USS Dupage (35 killed, 157 wounded);
USS Gilligan (2 killed, 6 wounded);
USS Bellknap (19 killed, 37 wounded);
USS Dickerson (13 wounded);
USS LST 778 (7 killed, 12 wounded);
USS Zeilen (5 killed, 32 wounded, 3 missing at time of report);
USS Salamaua (10 killed, 87 wounded, 5 missing.)

Action Report, COM Luzon Attack Force, Lingayen.

The kamikaze aircraft hits Columbia at 17:29.
The kamikaze aircraft hits Columbia at 17:29.

The Pacific war continues – next landing Luzon

 American soldiers take cover from fire of a Japanese machine gun in the Philippines during World War II. The troops are part of the first wave to land on Leyte Island in the Philippine invasion.
American soldiers take cover from fire of a Japanese machine gun in the Philippines during World War II. The troops are part of the first wave to land on Leyte Island in the Philippine invasion.
November 1944: U.S. landing ship tanks are seen from above as they pour military equipment onto the shores of Leyte island, to support invading forces in the Philippines.
November 1944: U.S. landing ship tanks are seen from above as they pour military equipment onto the shores of Leyte island, to support invading forces in the Philippines.

The steady progress of US forces across the Pacific continued. The first landings on the Philippines, on the island of Leyte, had now been consolidated and the US Navy was preparing for the next landings, on Luzon.

Th Japanese were now hopelessly outgunned by the overwhelming might of the U.S. arsenal.They could only resort to suicidal tactics in an attempt to slow the inexorable progress of US forces, which were island hopping towards the Japanese mainland. On land Japanese forces were digging themselves in and fighting to the death. At sea no Allied ship was safe from kamikaze attack, and almost any plane that came within range was liable to be shot out of the skies with every gun available.

Sy Kahn was sweating it out on the transport ship USS La Salle which was part of a convoy of almost 500 ships forming up off New Guinea. As a member of the 495th Port Battalion of the Army Transportation Corps, his principal role was loading and unloading ships, although they were regarded as reserve troops for combat should the need arise. They knew they would be amongst the later waves to land on Luzon:

December 30 1944

Early this morning, about 2:00 A.M., I was waked by the “general quarters” alarm and by the blaring PA, “All men man your battle stations.” I dressed and took my life preserver and headed for the deck. In the ‘tween deck I heard the pounding of ack-ack and the chatter of machine guns. Upon reaching the deck, I saw that all fire was directed immediately over our heads.

It was a very bright night, full moon, and the luminous plane was easily spotted quite high up. With red lines of bullets chasing him and ominous black puffs of exploding 90s all around, he flew very fast, headed away from us toward open sea and a thinnish cloud bank.

Just before getting to the bank, two 90s shells burst close on each side of him. A moment later he was in the thin clouds which weren’t adequate cover. The ship’s machine guns continued to rattle, but the range was too great for anything but ack-ack.

Just as I thought he was about to get away, he began to dive out of the cloud he had sought for cover. A moment later a huge streak of flame burst from the falling plane, now out of control.

The Aichi E13A a Japanese float plane which the USS La Salle participated in shooting down on 30 December before departing for Luzon.
The Aichi E13A a Japanese float plane, known to the Allies as a ‘Jake, which the USS La Salle participated in shooting down on 30 December before departing for Luzon.

The Jap fell a long way, burning brightly and viciously all the way down. I could hear the whine of the motor as he fell earthward in ever-increasing speed. The pilot didn’t have a chance; he burned like tinder. It was the clearest sight I’ve had of a hit Jap plane.

While he fell, all the men aboard were silent and fascinated by the orange streak that marked the end of a life and enemy. No guns fired. As soon as he hit the water, a tremendous yell split the air, and we continued cheering, me included.

He fell in the sea some distance away and continued to burn brightly for some 10 minutes after crashing. Soon there was just a tiny, diminishing flame — the fiery and brief marker of one less enemy.

Undoubtedly the Japs have wind of this convoy which is forming all up and down the New Guinea coast. I hope we have all the aircraft carriers rumored. It is said there are 200,000 Japs defending Luzon.

Leyte is taken and mopping-up operations remain. Our report states that we lost about 2,700 men in that campaign to the Japs’ 113,000! I It is difficult to believe these figures. If these odds are anywhere near accurate, it is a decisive victory. [Actual postwar figures: Japanese casualties numbered 67,000; American casualties were 3,504 killed and 11,991 wounded]

There is continued air attack on Luzon, on Clark and Nichols Fields, and other less famous ones, with 214 Jap planes on Luzon reported destroyed so far, that many less we’ll have to face. The Japs shelled Mindora (ineffectively, it’s stated) while we sank three destroyers and scored hits on a cruiser and battleship!

The battle in Europe continues to sway from side to side, and we all hope that this will prove the last German offensive, the last spurt of flame before the candle goes out.

See Sy M. Kahn: Between Tedium and Terror: A Soldier’s World War II Diary, 1943-45

Nov. 25, 1944: Firefighters are almost hidden by smoke as they turn their hoses on many small fires started on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid after a Japanese suicide plane crashed into the carrier while it was operating off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines.
Nov. 25, 1944: Firefighters are almost hidden by smoke as they turn their hoses on many small fires started on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid after a Japanese suicide plane crashed into the carrier while it was operating off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines.
Nov. 25, 1944: Wounded sailors are treated on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid after a Japanese suicide pilot crashed his plane on the carrier's deck while it sailed off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines, during World War II.
Nov. 25, 1944: Wounded sailors are treated on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid after a Japanese suicide pilot crashed his plane on the carrier’s deck while it sailed off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines, during World War II.
Nov. 26, 1944: Burial at sea ceremonies are held aboard the USS Intrepid for members of the crew lost after the carrier was hit by a Japanese suicide pilot while operating off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines, during World War II. Sixteen men were killed in the kamikaze attack.
Nov. 26, 1944: Burial at sea ceremonies are held aboard the USS Intrepid for members of the crew lost after the carrier was hit by a Japanese suicide pilot while operating off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines, during World War II. Sixteen men were killed in the kamikaze attack.