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Nations at war
Conner, Howard M. The Spearhead: The World War II History of the 5th Marine Division.
Nashville, TN: The Battery Press, 2001.
Appendices: Effect of Casualties; Battle Casualties; Decorations and Awards; Unit Rosters
As usual, Richard Gardner has done a wonderful job with the latest divisional history reprint from Battery Press. This one (originally published in 1950) chronicles the 5th Marine Division beginning with its activation on 11 November 1943 and the opening of divisional headquarters at Camp Pendleton on 1 December.
The first chapter covers assembly and training of the division in California, and then the dispatch of the 26th Marines in July 1944 as floating reserve for the invasion of Guam. In August the division began moving to Hawaii, and by October the entire division was training on the big island. After much practice in amphibious landings and other work, at the end of December the division began loading and in January sailed from Hawaii. Destination? Iwo Jima.
The book describes the voyage to the objective, preparations en route, the defenses of the island, the pre-invasion bombardment, and provides a complete order of battle for the 5th Division's landing operations. The next six chapters contain a detailed, blow-by-blow account of one of the Marines' toughest battles. The author covers the big picture, the dramatic stories of individual Marines, and everything in between.
As the 26th Marines eliminated the last enemy resistance in northwestern Iwo Jima and its 1st Battalion broke through to the sea, the only remaining Japanese-held groundall in the 5th Division zonewas the gorge which CT 28 had been facing. It was eight hundred yards long from its inland approach to the western beach and seventy-five to five hundred yards wide, filled with jagged, rocky outcrops. Men moving through it would face heavy, accurate machine-gun and rifle fire from caves and spider holes in the cliffs and outcrops. (The Japanese decision to hold this ground to the end cost the 5th Marine Division four hundred more casualties. )
To crush this last resistance, General Rockey decided that CT 28 would hold its position on the southern lip of the gorge while CT 26 worked down it from the north and east. General Hermle, the ADC, moved into an observation post overlooking the gorge and General Rockey transferred to him operational control over all units in the area.
Japanese resistance on D plus 28 centered around an immense concrete structure near the eastern entrance to the gorge. It was surrounded by mutually supporting caves, and was absolutely impervious to tank shelling and demolition attempts with forty-pound shaped charges. Finally, Marines destroyed the surrounding positions and by-passed the emplacement, which was later destroyed, after tankdozers had closed off several air vents and a steel door, by more than four tons of explosives divided into five charges.
LT 1/26 spearheaded the attack down the gorge while other landing teams along with the 5th Pioneer Battalion hammered at its mouth or mopped up along either side. A motor transport detachment under Captain Samuel L. Slocum was detached from LT 1/28 and returned to its battalion after eight days of well performed duty with the infantry. In the course of LT 1/26's attack Lieutenant Colonel Pollock, its commander, was wounded and Major Albert V. K. Gary took command.
D plus 29 saw LTs 3/27 and 1/26 continue the attack down the gorge until G Company, 2/27, operating with two platoons and any specialists it could scrape up, ran into a knoll solidly held by the Japanese. The Japs opened up with a hand grenade barrage from caves cut into the sides of the knoll, and Captain James C. Brennan's Marines fought back in kind, emptying thirty-six cases of grenades during the afternoon and disposing of various of the enemy who charged the Marine lines with bombs and explosive charges strapped to their backs.
After dozers had cleared a path, flame-throwing tanks moved up and burned out the caves which were still occupied as G Company, minus seven killed and twenty-four wounded, fought its way to the top of the knoll. Before dark, however, the company moved back a short distance and dug in on more defensible ground.
While this battle was being fought LT 1/26's patrols, with engineers and tanks attached, had probed far down the gorge and killed about eighty Japanese in the process. During this operation one tank-dozer operator had nosed his machine down the gorge, plowing shut caves and scooping out paths for the tanks behind him. Suddenly a lone Japanese soldier carrying a satchel charge ran at the dozer with the very evident intention of blowing it up.
The operator swung sharply toward his assailant, raised the powerful dozer blade, paused, and dropped it, neatly cutting the Japanese in two. Then, as an astonished tank crew looked on, this Marine climbed from his machine and ambled over to the buttoned-up Sherman. Disregarding enemy fire he banged on the side of the tank until a disbelieving crew member answered him through a fire port.
"Did you see what that Nip tried to do to me?" he exclaimed. "That did it, brother, I'm finished!"
With that he ambled down the gorge through sniper-thick country until finally he reached the Marine front lines. Although tankmen had not recovered from the incident the next day the dozer operator had, and was again leading the fight against the last organized resistance on Iwo.
Following their epic battle on Iwo, 5th Marine Division arrived back in Hawaii in April 1945. While they trained and absorbed replacements and prepared for their next assignmentthe invasion of Japanthe war ended. In September the division boarded transports once again and sailed for Japan where they served on occupation duty. The book continues the story through the division's return to the United States.
The final 145 pages of the book are devoted to lists of Marines killed in action, died of wounds, wounded in action, and missing in action; a list of individuals who received various decorations and awards; and complete unit rosters for all the division's components.
This is a good divisional history, and Battery has done a fine job reproducing it.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Battery Press.
Thanks to Battery for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 23 September 2001
Copyright © 2001 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone