The Coast Guard
During World War II
With the major points in the Philippines secure, the Allies began
looking to the final assault on the Japanese islands. Along the route
lay Iwo Jima, an island less than four miles long and just over two
wide. Allied planners believed the capture of this volcanic island would
ease the later operations because it could be used as an emergency air
base for crippled heavy bombers returning from missions over Japan.
Furthermore, fighters could fly from Iwo Jima and could supply cover for
the entire distance to the targets and back.
LCT's and LST's disgorge their cargo
during the assault on Iwo Jima.
Nine hundred vessels sailed in the numerous task groups of the Fifth
Fleet and in support of the operation. These ships carried expeditionary
forces of more than 70,000 Marines, nearly 4,000 men in the naval
landing force, and more than 36,000 garrison troops to attack the
determined Japanese of 21,000.
The Allies set Feb. 19 as D-Day. The assault forces arrived off the
southeast side of the island to land men at seven predetermined beaches
stretching only 3,500 yards. Included in these vessels were the
Bayfield and the Callaway, 14 LSTs, and the submarine
chaser PC-469. With no reefs surrounding the island, the landings
promised little difficulty. The attack forces arrived off the beaches
before daylight and began debarking troops into the LVTs, and lowered
LCMs and LCVPs for the assault. The LVTs landed the first five assault
waves. The anticipated good beach conditions unfortunately did not
materialize. The surf broke directly on the beach, broaching and
carrying the small craft sideways up on the beach. It did not take long
for the shore line to become littered with craft.
The successive waves of landing craft had difficulty getting to the
beach and likewise became damaged and lost. The Coast Guard coxswains
found it necessary to back the craft into the wind and current to keep
grounding hard onto the beach. The beachmasters, salvage parties and
beach parties normally kept the beaches clear, but due to the intense
Japanese mortar fire, none of these men could remain on the beach.
Therefore the coxswains in the landing craft had to take all the
initiative to get to the beach, unload, and back off. The wreckage
eventually caused the beach to be closed to everything smaller than an
LCT until tugs and other craft cleared it for later waves to disembark
troops and supplies.
The Coast Guard landed Marine divisions along with their gear,
bulldozers, vehicles, rations, small arms, water, and virtually
everything that would keep the landing forces moving inland. One of the
most enduring images of the capture of the island is the Marines raising
the American flag on Mt. Suribachi. Interestingly both the
LST-779 and the LST-758 claimed the honor of suppling one
of the flags used during the raising on Mt. Suribachi.