|All Original Written Material copyright 1999,
Dan Marsh; all original artwork copyright 1999 by Louie Marsh. Please use with permission
- The Last Battle
Sugar Loaf -
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, ¾ 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 enemys artillery observers 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
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
enemys 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, 2/4s 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 enemys line of defense. Both companies suffered
heavy casualties, but by 1600 when the attack was halted, were on the battalions
objective. The Battalions lines now looked down on the enemys 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 cant 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 ¼ to
select a company to support ¾ if an attack developed. The mission was assigned to B
Company, who was briefed on the shortest routes to ¾s positions. The 3rd
battalion was on full alert, expecting the enemy to come out in great strength.
A general quietness prevailed along the marines 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
Battalions 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 3/4s lines the morning of 21 May.
The Fourth Marines resumed their assault on the 21st,
while the 22nd on the Divisions 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
Divisions zone of action, his plan called for that battalion to establish a strong
defense on the rear slope. The focus of the Divisions 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. Sextons 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 companys 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, cigarettes 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. Studs 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 companys 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 Marks
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 Studs assistant, told him Stud was dead,
and sent him on an errand. Then I walked over to the Gunnery Sgts 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
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, Studs 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 didnt hear nobody pray dear brother, I didnt 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 Shepherds orders the 1st
and 3rd Battalions crossed over, and by 1130 had secured a firm hold on the
south bank, with ¼ on the right and ¾ 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
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 ¾ 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 ¼ 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
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 LVTs,
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 ¼
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 Battalions attack. By 1100, the Battalion had gained 1000
yards and was on its 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
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
When the attack was halted at days 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 marines
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
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 Otas 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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