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All Original Written Material copyright 1999, Dan Marsh; all original artwork copyright 1999 by Louie Marsh. Please use with permission only.

 

 

 

OKINAWA - The Last Battle

Sugar Loaf - Naha

On 18 May, General Geiger released the 4th Marines from Corps reserve, to provide much needed relief for the 29th Marines the following day. During the early morning, 2/4 and 3/4 moved out in the approach march to relieve the assault battalions of the 29th in place

Harassing mortar and artillery fire, falling on the relieving columns and the positions of the 29th, hampered their movements. By 1430 however, 2/4 was in place on the left, on the right and the 29th had displaced to the rear. The relief effort had cost the 4th marines over 70 casualties. The Japanese, who had observed the relief, immediately launched a counter attack against 2/4, who were in an exposed position near Half Moon Hill. A sharp firefight erupted for about two hours, then the Japanese broke contact and retired. The lines of 2/4 were then re-aligned, to provide a more secure position and contact with 3/5 and 3/4.

When Company K moved out that morning, my demolition men were attached to the rifle platoons, while the Flamethrower, Bazooka teams and myself were with Company headquarters. In this way, the heavy Flamethrowers and other equipment could be transported in the supply trailer, but quickly available if needed. My three demolition men were experienced, capable and very dependable. One bazooka operator was in the same category, but the others were entering combat for the first time.

During the night, the battalion area came under heavy and accurate mortar and artillery fire, which increased my concern for the new men. They would learn to raise an inner shield that would enable them to function and meet their responsibilities under fire. This process (however it worked) requires a little time, but is essential to the protecting of your sanity, until your individual limit is reached.

PERSONAL NOTE: [I was sitting on the edge of my hole about twilight, ready to dive in at the sound of incoming mail, when my thoughts began to wander. The air was murky with smoke, and assailed my nostrils with that hideous combination of cordite and putrefying flesh, that penetrates to the depth of your being. In the fading light, my surroundings seemed so unreal as I looked about. Suddenly, I realized that I knew this place, it was that strange nether world I had once read about; this was the place of the dead. We were intruders, because we were alive and did not belong, strangers so to speak. As long as we remained there we would be walking a narrow plank trying to keep our balance so we did not totter off the edge and no longer be a stranger. Quickly I snapped my mind back to reality. Such wanderings of the mind are dangerous, so I turned to other things. The fact remains however, that the Sugar Loaf Complex will always be to me -the place of the dead]

Following, the well placed fire of artillery and mortars, 2/4 and 3/4 moved out in the assault on 20 May. Both battalions were supported by tanks and made rapid progress for about 200 yards, when they were brought to a halt by a torrent of enemy fire. The Japanese, who were deeply entrenched on Half Moon and Horseshoe, suddenly met the advance with a hail of small arms, machine gun, artillery and mortar fire. The enemy’s artillery observer’s on Shuri Ridge, were virtually looking down our throats, and could easily control and direct very accurate fire from hidden gun positions. Consequently, they were able to inflict heavy casualties upon the assaulting line.

On the left Col. Hayden of 2/4, committed his reserve company on the left of his line about 1000. However, as casualties continued to increase and the assault was at a standstill, he decided to change his plan of attack. Instead of continuing the frontal assault, he would attempt to envelop both flanks of the enemy’s positions on Half Moon. When preparations were completed, the attack was renewed with F Company laying down covering fire, While, Company G assaulted the right flank and Company E the left. Both units were supported by tanks. Company G, moving closely behind the fire of the tanks, quickly reached and secured the western end of Half Moon. Traversing more open ground and subject to enemy fire from three directions, the advance of Company E was much slower. Despite heavy casualties, and the volume of mortar fire they encountered, E Company reached the forward slope of their objective and dug in for the night. Although, 2/4’s positions were unusually close to those of the Japanese, they had gained vital ground and held secure positions.

On the right, 3/4 pressed their assault against a network of mutually supporting emplacements in the caves along the forward slope of Horseshoe Ridge. Utilizing demolitions, flame-throwers and direct fire of the supporting tanks, K and L companies methodically reduced the enemy’s line of defense. Both companies suffered heavy casualties, but by 1600 when the attack was halted, were on the battalion’s objective. The Battalions lines now looked down on the enemy’s defiladed mortar emplacements, which had caused so many casualties through out the day.

Just before noon, I learned that the 20th was not going to my day. In response to a garbled message that one of my men would not move out, I went forward to investigate. I soon learned from an NCO, that he had removed the flamethrower from his back, laid it on the ground and walked off to the right rear. I never saw or heard from the man again and could only report him as missing. Later, one of my most reliable demolition men hurried up to me, put his hand on my arm, and said calmly "I can’t do this anymore." I was amazed, and quickly made several suggestions, to which he firmly shook his head. I then told him to go back to the Battalion Aid Station, and tell them what he had told me. He thanked me and quickly moved away. I realized with much regret, that a man I greatly admired and respected had just passed out of life.

The 3rd Battalion set up for the night without reserves, because Lt. Col. Hochmuth had committed I Company, during the afternoon, to bolster the depleted assaulting lines. Col. Shapley however, realizing that the enemy would probably react to the loss of Horseshoe, with a major counter attack, ordered to select a company to support if an attack developed. The mission was assigned to B Company, who was briefed on the shortest routes to ’s positions. The 3rd battalion was on full alert, expecting the enemy to come out in great strength.

A general quietness prevailed along the marine’s lines during the early hours of darkness. Only the usual but constant harassing artillery and mortar fire interrupted the calm. Around 2200, the volume of fire suddenly increased and bursts of white phosphorus and colored smoke signaled the launching of the expected counter attack. A force of over 700 battle tested enemy troops hit the front of K and L companies with a furious assault. The response of the 3rd Battalion, and all their supports, was instantaneous and with immense destructive power. The pre-registered concentrations of six artillery battalions crashed down on the attacking force and naval guns illuminated the sky over the entire area. The 60mm mortars of each company and Battalion’s 81mm quickly laid fire upon there registered zones. This was just the beginning, before the assault was crushed 15 battalions of artillery would be firing on the 3rd Battalion front and all avenues of approach.

The Japanese, who realized there was a limit to how close artillery and mortars would be used in front of our own lines, closed up to our positions. The ensuing battle was close in, vicious, savage and at times hand to hand. Every marine in the 3rd Battalion, who had a hand free, supplied the line with grenades and ammunition by shuttling back and forth to meet the demand. The battle had to be won at close range with grenades, machineguns, other small arms, and the knife and bayonet if necessary. Company B came forward, at just the right time, to add their strength and fire to the battle.

By 0100 the issue had been resolved. The few Japanese, who had penetrated our lines, were quickly dispatched and mopping up of the area was in progress. The wounded were attended to and evacuated, but removal of the dead would wait until morning. The marines on the line had displayed a level of courage and determination that was beyond them throughout the Japanese onslaught. Direction and coordination of all supporting fires was also far beyond the ordinary, as well as the superb planning for the counterattack by all levels of command. The failure of the counterattack surely made it clear to the Japanese that the western anchor of the Shuri line was on the verge of collapse. Mute testimony to this fact was the presence of more than 500 enemy dead in front of 3/4’s lines the morning of 21 May.

The Fourth Marines resumed their assault on the 21st, while the 22nd on the Division’s right provided fire support and kept pace. The First Battalion in the center encountered pockets of heavy resistance, and heavy rain made supply and evacuation of wounded a major problem. Nevertheless, the Battalion advanced 200 yards and eliminated the resistance that had hindered their progress.

Employing flamethrowers and demolition teams, 3/4 blasted and burned their way through elaborate enemy fortifications on the slopes of Horseshoe. By 1400, K and L Companies had destroyed the deadly, defilated, enemy mortar emplacements in the Horseshoe depression, and were on a defensive line that reached half way between Horseshoe and the Asato River.

Due to rough terrain, 2/4 at half Moon could not employ tanks effectively. Very accurate and heavy mortar and artillery fire from Shuri heights made it impossible for the Battalion to make any significant gains on the 21st. On evaluating the situation at Half Moon Hill, General Shepherd changed his operational plans for the Division. Since 2/4 was being held up by fire originating out of the Division’s zone of action, his plan called for that battalion to establish a strong defense on the rear slope. The focus of the Division’s attack would then shift toward the south and southwest.

Heavy rains continued to fall during the night, and by morning the entire area of operations was a sea of mud. This would prove to be a greater hindrance to movement and re-supply than the enemy.

Despite unfavorable conditions, 1/4 and 3/4 resumed their advance early morning of the 23rd, while 2/4 guarded the left flank and maintained contact with the 1st Division. By 1300 both Battalions had reached their objective on the north bank of the Asato. Patrols then crossed the river and penetrated 200 yards into Naha before encountering enemy resistance. While digging in 3/4 came under the intermittent fire of heavy artillery and mortars.

K Company was situated on the reverse slope of a low ridge that was moderately wooded. My demolition men were with the rifle platoons, but Stud the Bazooka operator, his assistant and myself dug in on line with Company Hq. While we were digging in, Mark who was now Capt. Sexton’s runner stopped by and wanted me to see the position he had inherited from the Japanese. We were in the same machinegun squad on Guam and had become friends, so I went to see his "burrow" as he called it. I followed him through a small opening tunnel cut into the ridge into a larger space set off at right angle from the opening. Someone had been very comfortable and secure there, and I told Mark it was the safest place on Okinawa. I congratulated him and then quickly returned to help dig in for the night.

We had just finished, when a large puff of white smoke appeared on the left and then the right flanks of the company’s position. Stud and I looked at one another rather grimly, because we knew the Japanese had just registered their mortars and artillery by a bracket of our lines. In the light that remained, we went through the usual routine of coffee, cigarette’s and a can of rations if that was your priority. Then we decided the order of the watch (one man awake and alert at all times), and settled down for the night. Stud’s assistant would have the first watch, myself the second and Stud the last, which would allow each of us about six hours rest.

The early hours were quiet, but soon we came under the usual sporadic harassing fire, which we considered to be normal. Since I had the middle watch, I was able to reach that state of semi-stupor that front line marines call sleep. Soon I was awakened, the wristwatch passed to me and I began my tour on watch. It was then that the Japanese decided to blow K Company apart. For what seemed to be hours, they walked their 91mm mortars back and forth along the company’s position, completely saturating the area. Then their artillery joined in as if they were trying to out do the mortar crews in leveling the area. Shells exploded in the trees, and I could hear shrapnel whirring and whining into the ground near our hole. When the mortar barrage passed far enough beyond us, I could rise up and look around until I was driven to ground by the tree bursts. Frequently, I heard the cry for corpsman, and once I heard Mark’s voice who was probably on an errand for the Captain.

In war, nothing is forever, and finally the bombardment dwindled down to the normal harassing level. Looking at the watch, I realized that my watch was over, and reached out to shake Stud. My hand went into his chest with my fingers touching his heart and lungs. I instantly recoiled, crouched down in the hole, and fought to get control of myself. My shield was down and I could not get it up. I rubbed my hand back and forth in the dirt trying to remove the blood and tissue that seemed to be glued to me. Slowly, I was able to gain a measure of control and began the process of raising my shield. I remained down in our hole clutching my sanity until daylight, and then I climbed out to face the day. I awoke Stud’s assistant, told him Stud was dead, and sent him on an errand. Then I walked over to the Gunnery Sgt’s position and shared the news with him. While we were talking, some one shouted to me "they got Mark last night." The news bounced off my shield, as there was just not room for any more.

The gunny was a wise man, and told me to get the help I needed to carry Stud to the collection point for the dead. When I returned to the hole, Stud’s assistant had returned with the stretcher we would need. Collecting two others, we lifted Stud onto the stretcher, wrapped him in a poncho, and began our journey. Because the road had been washed out by rain, and could not be negotiated even by Amtracs, our task was not easy. The collection point was on high ground near Horseshoe, and as we trudged along we often stumbled and fell. Finally we arrived and gently lowered the stretcher to the ground. Marines wrap their dead in ponchos, covering the head and letting the feet protrude at the bottom. I could not tell if Mark was there, but I thought of a song he used to sing when he had a snoot full of beer. The song ended something like this, "I didn’t hear nobody pray dear brother, I didn’t hear nobody pray." You understand of course, that I heard nothing. When I turned to leave, I could see Sugarloaf - the place of the dead.

The 4th Marines put many patrols across the Asato, during the early morning of 23 May. The reports all indicated that it would be possible to cross the Asato at low tide without tank support. Although, marine lines were receiving rifle and machinegun fire from high ground in the distance, no resistance was encountered along the river. Following General Shepherd’s orders the 1st and 3rd Battalions crossed over, and by 1130 had secured a firm hold on the south bank, with on the right and on the left. The two battalions then resumed the attack toward a low ridge about 500 yards south of the river. As they approached the high ground resistance rapidly increased. The face of the ridge contained many Okinawan tombs that were fortified, and fire was also being received from reverse slope mortar emplacements. The advance was halted about 100 yards short of the regimental objective due to approaching darkness. Both Battalions then reorganized and established a secure defensive line.

On the 24th, General Shepherd ordered a re-alignment of 22nd and 4th Marine units, and the erecting of a Bailey bridge over the Asato River. Heavy rains had turned the river into a raging torrent and supply and evacuation activities would not be possible until the bridge was in place. Marine Engineers working under mortar and artillery fire completed the bridge and opened it for traffic by 1500. During the re-alignment of units, 2/4 was relieved by 3/22 on the left, and then crossed the river and relieved on the right. In a driving rain we retired to an assembly area as regimental reserve. Not one company in the battalion could muster over 90 men, and in K Company the number was much less.

During the 25th and 26th as I remember things, the Battalion did what reorganizing and resupply that conditions permitted and tried to stay dry. I recall standing for hours under a rock overhang to escape the endless rain. We also heard reports that the Japanese were withdrawing from the Shuri line, but our frontline units experienced no weakening of enemy resistance.

Early on the 27th, we re-entered the 4th Marines lines on the left, between and 3/22 under orders to occupy the rest of Naha. The ground ahead was prepared by a very heavy artillery concentration, then we moved out against light resistance. All units were on their objective by 1700 and in strong defensive positions by 1940. That evening the 4th Marines were advised that the Regiment would be relieved in the morning.

Early on the 29th, our relief began accompanied by a heavy enemy shelling that increased the casualties in our already depleted units. Following the relief, the 4th Marines became 6th Division reserve and moved to an area near Machinato airfield.

NOTE: [Verification of the Japanese withdrawal came on the 29th, when the 5th marines captured Shuri Castle, former Headquarters of General Ushijima. To expedite gaining their objective, units of the 5th marines entered the zone of the 77th Infantry. I am sure this move was not appreciated because it was not coordinated with General Bruce Commander of the 77th Division. One thing was clear to all army and marine units. The rear guard left by General Ushijima, to fight die and be buried in place, had fulfilled his fondest hopes. The great majority of the troops defending the Shuri line, had successfully withdrawn to previously prepared positions to once again confront the 10th Army.]

The first day in reserve was restful, since we were able to shower in cold water and clean up a little so that we almost felt human. We were also busy cleaning weapons, being resupplied and getting ready once again to meet our responsibility as marines. Replacements arrived, and five were assigned to my section. I took them aside and tried to share with them the things they could do to prolong their lives during combat. They were fresh from the States, and looked at all of us as if we were from outer space. We were not offended, as we knew they would soon be as we appeared to them. I then assigned them to places in the section, knowing the experienced men would watch over them, while they adjusted to the trauma ahead of them.

During this time, General Shepherd and his Staff, in response to orders from 10th Army, were feverishly developing plans for an amphibious shore to shore landing on Oroku Peninsula. I will briefly outline the operational plan as follows:

The landing would be made in a column of regiments, on the Nishikaku beaches along the northeast coast. The 4th Marines would move over Red 1 and Red 2 with 1/4 on the right and 2/4 on the left. The 3rd Battalion would land in trace as Regimental reserve. Tanks and other supports would come ashore as the beachhead would permit. The 29th Marines would board returning LVT’s, land as scheduled by General Shepherd, and join the assault. The invasion would be preceded by an hour-long bombardment of artillery and naval gunfire, on the high ground over looking the beaches.

On 4 June, the Amphibious assault on Oroku began on schedule, but before reaching the line of departure, some of the tractors carrying 1/4 developed mechanical problems. Six tractors however, had no difficulty and completed the run to the beach. Col. Shapley ordered the landing operations to continue without delaying H Hour. The 2nd Battalion encountered no delays and moved over the beach on schedule at 0600. The assault companies advanced rapidly about 300 yards and secured the high ground to their front. Resistance was scattered and did not impede their progress. By 0630, all 2nd Battalion units were ashore and had reorganized. The tanks of Company A were ashore by 0650 and in support of 2/4 as were the mine disposal engineers.

The tanks of Company C were in support of those units of who were ashore by 0800. The units of 1/4 who had been delayed, came ashore later in the morning. Company B, the reserve company of 1/4 was near full strength, and moved up on the right to strengthen the Battalion’s attack. By 1100, the Battalion had gained 1000 yards and was on it’s objective.

As 2/4 continued their attack, they met increasing resistance on their left. Mine fields and soggy ground limited the advance of the tank infantry teams. As the day progressed, tank movement became confined to the heavily damaged roads.

Coming ashore at 0845, the 3rd Battalion was immediately committed to the right of 1/4. The Battalion then quickly advanced to the edge of Oroku airfield. Considering the excellent progress of the landing operations, by mid-morning General Shepherd ordered the 29th Marines to begin their move to the Peninsula. In response, two Battalions of the 29th were transported to the peninsula and entered the lines on the left of the 4th Marines. The 2nd Battalion was able to relieve 2/4 by 1300, while 3/29 assumed responsibility for the rest of the zone by 1430. At that time 2/4 became regimental reserve for the 4th marines.

When the attack was halted at day’s end, the beachhead extended 1500 yards inland. Resistance had steadily increased during the day, and movement was hindered by heavy rain storms and many mine fields that overwhelmed mine removal crews. As usual, intermittent mortar and artillery fire fell on the marine’s positions during the night.

NOTE: [An unusual Japanese weapon was encountered for the first time on Oroku. It consisted of a Rocket 8 inches in diameter that was launched utilizing a pair of horizontal rails about 20 feet long. The missile looked from a distance like a flying telephone pole and made a screaming sound when launched. The system was very crude, and historians always say it was very ineffective. However, if you were at ground zero when it impacted you might have a different opinion. Another weapon, encountered much earlier on Okinawa, re-appeared on Oroku. That was the 320 mm Spigot Mortar, that was usually employed to deliver harassing at night, to escape detection.]

I will not continue, as I have been doing, to provide a day by day account of the battle for Oroku Peninsula. I believe it to easily becomes repetitious and boring. Actually, each day is rather representative of all the operations of the 4th Marines on the Peninsula. From a personal viewpoint, as I review the battle in my mind, I experience the same beaten down weariness we knew then. We were all approaching our limit, but somehow were able to maintain to the end a state of denial.

The battle for Oroku was savage and bitter, so that each day seemed to be a war in itself. Enemy resistance was sometimes light in areas he did choose to defend, and the advance was rapid. The ground he had organized in depth however, he defended viciously and intelligently. The battle for Oroku, as throughout the Pacific, was one of no quarter. There was only one way to defeat the Japanese, blast, burn, kill and bury in place was the order of the day. That was his decision, and the marines had to be willing to pay the price of fulfilling his dream of a glorious death.

The battle for Oroku, literally raged for ten days and the tactics employed were much the same as on Motobu Peninsula. Day by day, as the assault progressed the peninsula was slowly sealed off. Then, the battalions of the 6th Marine Division coiled around Admiral Ota’s stronghold like a deadly Boa Constrictor and squeezed the life from his command.

Ten days of fierce, relentless warfare by the marines produced the following results. 5000 Japanese troops were killed and nearly 200 were taken prisoner. Thirty marine tanks were put out of action, primarily by striking mines. One tank was hit and destroyed by point blank fire of an 8 inch naval gun. This victory was purchased at the price of 1,608 marines killed or wounded.

General Shepherd reported to General Geiger at 1750, 14 June, that all organized resistance on Oroku Peninsula had ceased. Mopping up operations and a general reorganization of all units continued for a few days, while plans were formulated for commitment of the Division to the southern front.

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