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Recommended Reading


Sea Power: A Naval History


The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy

The Development of Amphibious Assaults during World War II
The Development of Amphibious Assaults during World War II
by Larry Parker

Introduction

As American capabilities and experience grew during World War II amphibious assaults evolved from the close run, shoestring operation at Guadalcanal [1] into the incredibly complex and massive invasions of Normandy and Okinawa involving thousands of ships, planes and men and vast supply chains. To defend against the growing American sea borne juggernaut German and Japanese counter landing strategies also evolved reaching their epitome in the Atlantic Wall of Festung Europa (Fortress Europe) and the Fukkaku (Endurance Engagement) / Kamikaze (Suicide) tactics of Okinawa. To better understand this process this paper will briefly describe the five major landings in Europe (North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and Normandy) and five of the seven 'storm landings' of the Pacific (Tarawa, Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa). Utilizing that background information this paper will then analyze the improvements in amphibious assaults as well as the changes in defensive tactics that took place between 1941-1945. This paper will also compare and contrast the differences between methodologies in the Atlantic and the Pacific Theatre of Operations concluding with a few observations on current and projected amphibious capabilities.

Background

European Theatre of Operations
North Africa Operation Torch 08 Nov 42 – 13 May 43
Commanders Dwight D Eisenhower Jean Darlan
Opposing Forces Western TF 35,000
Central TF 39,000
Eastern TF 33,000
400 Ships
1000 aircraft
120,000 Vichy French,
Colonial & Legionary Forces
Static Defense

It is said a camel is a horse designed by committee. If so the Allied Mediterranean strategy is an apt example of that analogy. Adamantly opposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) who favored a direct assault on Germany as soon as possible, General Marshall and Admiral King were overruled by President Roosevelt. Anxious to see American troops in action for political and morale reasons FDR embraced Churchill's stratagem for a thrust at the 'soft underbelly of the Axis' when it became apparent a cross channel invasion was not feasible in 1942. French hostility toward the British for their attack on the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir meant the landings would have to have an American face. Due to the shortage of aircraft carriers the availability of land based air support became a major factor in invasion planning. The range of fighters flying out of Gibraltar and Malta precluded invasion sites at Bizerte or Tunis, which offered the best chance of trapping Rommel's Afrika Korps. After much debate and much compromise Casablanca, Oran and Algiers were chosen for America's entry into the European Theatre of Operations.

The Allied forces assembled for Operation Torch were opposed by approximately 120,000 Colonial, Legionary and Vichy troops of unknown quality and uncertain loyalty to the Reich. Fortunately the Allies met only sporadic resistance for limited planning time, hurried preparation and inadequate training alone were sufficient to jeopardize the landings.[2] By later standards the available landing craft were primitive – Higgins Boats, LCP(R)s, LCVs, and LCMs carried the troops, jeeps, artillery and light tanks ashore from civilian cargo ships and passenger liners hastily pressed into service. So scarce were assault craft at this point in the war the Allies even attempted to use flat-bottomed oil tankers as makeshift LSTs.[3] None of the assault vessels were large enough to transport a medium tank or heavy cargo directly to the beach necessitating the immediate capture of an operational port with facilities to offload bulk supplies. On D-Day the combination of rough surf and inexperienced coxswains took its toll. Troops landed haphazardly, scattered across as much as forty miles of beaches, miles from assigned objectives, badly mixed with other units. Nearly fifty per cent of the landing craft at Casablanca and ninety per cent of the assault vessels at Algiers were disabled on D-Day critically hindering the delivery of food, fuel, ammunition and other urgently needed supplies and delaying the evacuation of the wounded.[4] Braving mines and shallow water daring German U-Boats compounded the logistics nightmare. Only the landings at Oran went smoothly. By the time the Allies secured their objectives, came to terms with the Vichy French and were suitably organized to mount a drive on Tunisia Hitler had rushed an entire field army commanded initially by Generalleutnant Walther Nehring[5] to Africa precipitating a six month campaign vice the lightening stroke originally planned.[6]

TORCH led inexorably to HUSKY, AVALANCE and SHINGLE. No doubt the lessons learned from these Mediterranean operations paid dividends at Normandy. Logistics and planning for OVERLORD was vastly improved as were landing craft designs and assault training. Whatever the merits of the Mediterranean strategy however, diversion of German units from France was not one of them. The Italian campaign tied down twice as many Allied troops as German for the remainder of the war.

Sicily Operation Husy 10 JUL – 17 AUG 43
Commanders Sir Harold Alexander Alfredo Guzzoni
Opposing Forces Patton 7th US Army
Montgomery 8th Br Army
1375 warships, landing craft supply and support vessels
2 German Divisions
2 Italian Divisions
6 It Coastal Defense Units 270,000 men total
Casualties 4958 KIA
16,666 WIA
29,000 KIA / WIA
140,000 POW
100,000 men & 10,000 vehicles evacuated


An assault on Messina offered the best chance to trap the Axis forces stationed in Sicily. At this point in the war however the Luftwaffe was still a force to be reckoned with. Consequently the range of Allied land based air support limited the choice of invasion sites to the southeastern tip of Sicily. American industry was beginning to answer the call for equipment in vast quantities. New landing craft (LSTs, LCTs, LCIs and DUWKs) and enhanced training vastly improved the ship to shore movement of men and materiel. That and the wholesale surrender of Italian Coastal Defense units ensured success on D-Day in spite of the same heavy surf conditions that had plagued Operation Torch. Sicily was no cakewalk however. A strong German / Italian armored counterattack at Gela pushed within yards of the beach. Artillery brought in by DUKWs dueled point blank with the onrushing tanks. The sheer determination of the 1st Infantry Division aided by outstanding Naval Gunfire Support from the six-inch guns of the cruiser USS Boise finally repulsed the attack. Disaster averted Patton's 7th Army dashed across Sicily to Palermo, then raced along the northern coast. A plodding advance by Montgomery however allowed the Germans to escape from Messina, retreating to Italy in good order with the majority of their vehicles. Although communications / coordination between air, ground and naval forces was poor and Air Marshall Tedder's decision to allocate all air assets to an interdiction role caused serious deficiencies in tactical air support the Allies were gaining valuable experience. For US forces Sicily was especially important. Any lingering doubts about the fighting quality of American troops after the debacle at Kasserine were erased at Gela. Strategically HUSKY paid other dividends. Occupation of Sicily drove Axis air and naval forces from the central Mediterranean, opening Allied lines of supply with Egypt and the invasion caused Hitler to cancel Operation Citadel, the titanic tank battle at Kursk designed to regain Axis initiative on the Russian front.

Salerno Operation Avalanche 09 SEP 1943
Commanders Dwight D Eisenhower Albert Kesselring
Opposing Forces Clark 5th US Army Salerno
450 ships

Montgomery 8th Br Army
Taranto & Reggio di Calabria
2nd Parachute Div
3rd Panzer Grenadier Div
15th Panzer Grenadier Div
Herman Goering Pz Div
16th Panzer Div
28th Panzer Div
1st Parachute Div
Mobile Defense


Now utterly enmeshed in Churchill's Mediterranean strategy Eisenhower began planning the invasion of Italy. Once again the range of air cover limited the choice of invasion sites, in this case to areas south of Naples. On 03 September the British crossed the Straights of Messina while making a simultaneous airborne assault on Taranto. Six days later the Americans landed at Salerno hoping to trap enemy forces drawn into the Reggio Di Calabria. Once the two armies linked the Allies planned to capture the major Italian port at Naples. Line of supply thereby secured they would then begin a drive on Rome.

Anticipating the Italian surrender, officially announced on 08 September, German troops were prepared to disarm their former Allies and assume defensive positions. Forgoing a preliminary bombardment as they had in North Africa and Sicily in order to achieve surprise, Allied troops in LCVPs headed to the beach anticipating little resistance. An acceptable risk in North Africa and Sicily due to limited opposition; in this case it was a poor decision. At Salerno Allied forces ran headlong into the very experienced, very tough and well prepared 16th Panzer Division. Of all the Allied assaults in the European Theatre of Operations Salerno came closest to being hurled back into the sea. The first wave met stiff resistance in the form of well-directed machine gun, mortar, artillery and tank fire. At dawn the Luftwaffe strafed and bombed the landing area and launched radio controlled glide bombs at the invasion fleet severely damaging two cruisers and one battleship. In stubborn fighting the beaches held and both sides rushed reinforcements to the area. Over 12-16 September Kesselring launched an all out counterattack to eliminate the Salerno beachhead before the British 8th Army could relieve the hard pressed 5th Army. Individual bravery, effective close air support and highly accurate Naval Gunfire Support turned back the German attack. Realizing he could not succeed under the guns of the Allied fleet Kesselring authorized a withdrawal to the Gustav line. There the Italian campaign stagnated due to stout German resistance, excellent defensive terrain and terrible weather. Heavy traffic and nearly continuous rain and snow turned supply routes into rivers of mud and battlefields into quagmires.

Anzio Operation Shingle 22 JAN – 04 JUN 1944
Commanders John P Lucas Albert Kesselring
Opposing Forces British
1st Infantry Div
46th Royal Tank Reg
9th Commando
43rd Commando
US
1st Ranger Bn
3rd Ranger Bn
4th Ranger Bn
504th Para Inf Reg
509th Para Inf Bn
3rd Infantry Div
751st Tank Bn

5 CA, 24 DD, 238 Landing Craft, 62 support ships 2600 aircraft
4th Parachute Div
Herman Goering Pz Div
3rd Panzer Grenadier Div
71st Infantry Div
2000 aircraft
Casualties 4400 KIA
18000 WIA
6800 MIA / POW
37000 Combat Fatigue
5500 KIA
17500 WIA
4500 MIA / POW


Hoping to break the Italian deadlock Eisenhower considered an invasion near Rome to outflank the superbly entrenched Germans and cut their line of supply. Convinced he did not have the necessary resources due to the build up for Overlord Ike dismissed the idea and soon departed to take command of the Normandy operation. Frustrated with the lack of progress in the Mediterranean Churchill insisted the assault be revived. Resurrected for political reasons Operation Shingle proceeded under the command of John P Lucas. An excellent concept given sufficient troops and bold execution Anzio was doomed from the onset by inadequate means and reluctant leadership. General Lucas did not trust his superiors or the operational plan. As he noted in his personal diary shortly before the attack, "Unless we can get what we want, the operation becomes such a desperate undertaking that it should not, in my opinion, be attempted." He continued with a direct reference to Churchill, architect of the Gallipoli debacle during World War I, proponent of the current Mediterranean strategy and advocate of Shingle, "(The operation) had a strong odor of Gallipoli and apparently the same author was still on the coach's bench." Lucas did not get the troops or landing craft he wanted and in a case of self-fulfilling prophecy the operation indeed became a desperate undertaking.

Allied forces met little opposition initially and by 2400 hours 36,000 soldiers and 3000 vehicles were ashore. Anzio fell the first day as well as Nettuno forming a shallow beachhead. Unfortunately no attempt was made to take the commanding heights on the Alban Hills. Orders from General Clark directed Lucas to "land, secure the beachhead and advance." Having successfully landed, having no confidence in the mission and believing his resources inadequate to safely advance the literal minded and unenthusiastic Lucas now paused to consolidate his lines and secure the initial gains. Bestowed the precious gift of time Kesselring rushed the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division, 71st Infantry Division and Herman Goering Panzer Division to the Anzio perimeter. Five additional divisions soon joined these units ringing the beachhead with German steel. With every inch of the lodgment subject to heavy German artillery fire conditions for the Allied soldiers were hellish indeed. Six months of vicious attacks and counterattacks ensued as each side vied to gain the upper hand. General Lucius Truscott relieved Lucas 23 February but any opportunity for quick success had already been lost. As an extremely displeased Winston Churchill noted, "I had hoped we were hurling a wildcat into the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale." Anzio continued to drain both sides until June 1944 when the stalemate was finally broken.

Normandy Operation Overlord 06 JUN – 22 AUG 1944
Commanders Dwight D Eisenhower
Bernard Montgomery
Gerd von Rundstedt
Erwin Rommel
Opposing Forces British
6th Airborne Div
1st & 4th Spec Svc Bde
50th Infantry Div
3rd Infantry Div
8th Armored Bde
27th Armored Bde
Canadian
3rd Infantry Div
2nd Armored Bde
US
1st Infantry Div
29th Infantry Div
2nd Ranger Bn
4th Infantry Div
101st Airborne Div
82nd Airborne Div

6000 ships
13000 aircraft
21st Panzer Div
716 Infantry Div (static)
352nd Infantry Div
6th Parachute Reg
91st Infantry Div
709th Infantry Div
243rd Infantry Div
30th Infantry Bde

17 U-Boats
4 Destroyers
24 E (torpedo) Boats
900 aircraft
Casualties 37,000 KIA
154,000 WIA
18,000 MIA
Approximately
200,000 KIA / WIA
200,000 POW


Drawing upon the experience of North Africa, Sicily, Salerno and Anzio and the lessons learned in the Pacific, Normandy was a masterpiece of detailed planning and remarkable logistic innovation. In spite of extensive preparations, unprecedented supply and support capabilities and overwhelming air and naval superiority there were glaring errors in execution however. Preliminary Combined Arms Support proved inadequate due to the short duration of Naval Gunfire and the delayed release of bomb loads due to cloud cover over the target areas. Most incredibly the vast Allied intelligence apparatus failed to appreciate the tactical significance of the Norman boscage or hedgerow country in which the campaign bogged down for months.

The German Kriegsmarine had never been adequate to challenge the Royal Navy much less the combined Allied fleet. Therefore a naval defense of France was not feasible. And by 1944 the bulk of the Luftwaffe served on the Eastern Front where it still maintained rough parity with the Soviet air force. Consequently German strategy shifted from the mobile defense of Sicily and Italy to a defense at the waters edge.

Fuhrer Directive number 40 ordered the creation of an 'Atlantic Wall' stretching from Spain to Norway. Covering some 2800 miles this series of fortifications was one of the largest construction projects in human history. Special emphasis was given to the Pas-de-Calais, the shortest route from England to France and most direct line of march from the landing site into the German heartland. Significantly this was the only area completed by June 1944. Recognizing the vital importance of harbor facilities to any invasion Hitler also insisted each port city be heavily fortified and strongly garrisoned. Typical of operations in the Third Reich part of the work was undertaken by Organization Todt, part by the Army, part by the Air Force and part by the Navy with no coordination of effort. Consequently when Rommel made his first inspection tour in the fall of 1943 he found the wall to be, in his words, "a figment of Hitler's Wolkenkucksheim" (cloud-cuckoo-land).[7] Of the 23,000 structures erected approximately half followed some standard design. The remaining bastions were built haphazardly per strictly service needs or local commanders discretion. Little or no thought was given to integrating defensive systems or coordinating efforts.

Rommel immediately set about to rectify the situation. At his command Army units dedicated three days per week laboring to improve fortifications. Hedgehogs,[8] Belgian gates [9] and stout wooden posts angled toward the sea, all topped with mines, were erected in the tidal zone. Soldiers strung hundreds of miles of barbed wire and laid millions of mines designed to channel invasion forces into killing zones. Artillery was calibrated, firing arcs established and machine guns emplaced to sweep the beaches. While not yet complete, by June 1944 the Atlantic Wall had been vastly improved. As necessary as this work was it did impact combat readiness. Work and guard details left little time for training. This was a reasonable trade off however considering Allied mastery of the sea and air.

An incomplete defensive system was not the only problem facing the Germans. Rommel's immediate superior, Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt, did not share his subordinate's tactical views. Rundstedt clung to the concept of a mobile defense and opted to hold the panzer divisions in a central reserve. As to how the motorized units would move to the front in the face of complete Allied air superiority, he had no answer. In typical fashion Hitler divided the armored formations between the two satisfying neither and allowing the Allies a toehold in Europe. Once ashore the outcome became a race to build up combat power, a race Hitler could not win.

Pacific Theatre of Operations

Tarawa Operation Longsuit 20 – 23 November 1943
Commanders Julian Smith Shibasaki Keiji
Opposing Forces 17 CV, 12 BB, 8 CA, 4 CL, 66 DD, 36 Transports 2nd MARDIV, 27th ID 2600 Imperial Marines
1000 Japanese workers
1200 Korean laborers
Casualties 1115 KIA
2292 WIA
4690 KIA
17 Japanese POW
129 Koreans liberated


The Japanese Imperial General Headquarters (IGHQ) was well aware of Tarawa's strategic location and invested considerable time and effort in fortifying the island. Fourteen costal defense guns and forty artillery pieces were dug in, many in concrete emplacements. These hard points were protected by some 500 mutually supporting concrete pillboxes and bunkers constructed from logs and covered with several feet of sand. Trenches connected all points of the island, allowing the defenders to move about under cover. An air and naval defense of Tarawa was planned to augment the ground defense however that portion of the strategic plan never materialized. Those air and naval forces not destroyed by American attacks on Rabaul were diverted when MacArthur invaded Bougainville.

A short but intense preliminary bombardment knocked out some of the large caliber coastal defense guns but had little impact otherwise. When the assault craft grounded on Tarawa's barrier reef the Marines of 2nd Division were forced to wade ashore under a withering fire. Consequently D-Day on Tarawa was a close run thing. Only the tenacity of the Marines supported by those LVT's that survived the gauntlet of fire and the inability of the Japanese to organize an effective counterattack the first night ensured success.

For a variety of reasons – untested doctrine, insufficient time to train on new equipment, ineffective Combined Arms Support, poor communications, a determined and resilient Japanese defense, etc. – fighting on Tarawa was bloody. The 2nd Marine Division suffered 1115 KIA and 2292 WIA, the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit during World War II (thirty per cent the first day, seventeen per cent overall.) Of the 4836 Japanese defenders only 17 soldiers and 129 Korean laborers survived. As a result of the problems encountered changes were made in amphibious doctrine, Naval Gunfire and Close Air Support were improved, Underwater Demolition Teams were expanded, AMTRACs and LVTs were up armored and up gunned, communications were improved with the advent of purpose built command and control ships and Marine Divisions were reorganized greatly increasing firepower.

Saipan Operation Forager 15 June – 09 July 1944
Commanders Holland Smith Yoshitsugu Saito
Opposing Forces 15 CV, 10 CVE, 14 BB, 26 CA, 144 DD, 326 transport, amphibious & cargo ships, 891 Aircraft 2nd MARDIV
4th MARDIV
27th INF DIV
9 CV, 5 BB, 13 CA, 28 DD, 430 Aircraft
25,469 Army 6,160 Navy
Casualties 3500 KIA
13160 WIA
21,000 KIA
8,000 Suicide
921 POW
22,000 civilian KIA/suicide


On 15 June 1944 the 2nd Marine Division landed just north of Charan-Kanoa, the 4th Marine Division just south. Within twenty minutes 8000 Marines were on the beach. By nightfall 20,000 Marines held a perimeter roughly 10,000 yards long and 1500 yards deep. The Japanese resisted fanatically inflicting 2000 casualties on D-Day but suffered far more themselves. In spite of fierce resistance by 24 June the 4th Marine Division had cleared Nafutan Point and driven to Magicienne Bay where it wheeled left and faced north. At this point Holland Smith inserted the 27th Infantry Division commanded by General Ralph Smith into the line. With the 2nd Marine Division on the left or west coast and the 4th Marine Division on the right or east coast and the 27th Infantry Division in the center the Americans began a drive that would end at Marpi Point on 09 July. The Japanese bitterly contested every foot of ground. Deprived of planned air and naval support however all they could do was die gallantly.

Located 1500 miles east of Manila and 1300 miles southeast of Tokyo the Japanese realized the strategic importance of Saipan, Tinian and Guam. Declaring the Marianas part of the Absolute National Defense Sphere IGHQ attempted to fortify the islands accordingly. 25,469 soldiers and 6,160 sailors were stationed on Saipan, 18,500 troops garrisoned Guam and 8000 personnel protected Tinian. By 1944 however U. S. submarines were ravaging the Japanese merchant fleet. One of every three cargo ships bound for the defensive perimeter was sunk severely impacting defensive preparations. On Saipan the projected completion date of the various fortifications had been pushed back to November 1944. Accordingly when the Americans landed in June they found 8-inch coastal defense guns awaiting emplacement and many redoubts lacking concrete covers.

In this respect the Americans were fortunate for what artillery had been emplaced had been well sited and accuracy aided by preset range markers. In addition Japanese gunners were well trained and maintained good fire discipline. Holding fire until the landing craft were well within range they savaged the troop laden AMTRAC's.

At this point in the Pacific war the Japanese still clung to a defense at the water's edge followed by immediate counterattacks to dislodge the enemy. Failing in this due to the tenacity of the Marines and excellent naval gunfire support the remnants of the garrison withdrew slowly toward Marpi Point taking advantage of the rugged terrain and exacting a heavy toll on the attacking soldiers and marines.

Throughout the war the Japanese seized every opportunity to lure the American fleet into a decisive engagement hoping to repeat the battle of Tsushima Straits. Therefore in addition to the ground defense of Saipan IGHQ planned a strong naval defense of the island termed A-GO (Operation A) as well. Under this plan Admiral Ozawa's 1st Mobile Fleet was ordered to rendezvous with Admiral Ugaki's battleship force east of the Philippines then steam to the relief of Saipan. This gave the Japanese a striking force of nine carriers (three fleet, two medium and four light), five battleships including the super dreadnoughts Yamato and Musashi , thirteen cruisers, twenty-eight destroyers and 430 carrier aircraft supplemented by strong land based air forces on Saipan, Tinian and Guam. According to the plan after attacking Task Force 58 the carrier planes would refuel and rearm on Guam then joined by Admiral Kakuta's land based planes make a second attack as they returned to their carriers. Through a series of such raids the Japanese hoped to deal a devastating blow to Task Force 58 Fleet and the accompanying transports of V Amphibious Force with their precious cargo of soldiers and marines thus reversing the outcome of Midway.

Things did not go as planned for the Japanese. A series of hit and run strikes by Task Force 58 had destroyed Imperial air power in the region prior to Forager. And navy intelligence tracked the 1st Mobile Fleet from the time it weighed anchor - allowing Spruance to prepare his much larger and better-trained fleet. Lacking the expected land based air support and short experienced aviators the resultant Battle of the Philippine Sea or "Great Mariana's Turkey Shoot" was a disaster for the Imperial Navy. At a cost of two oilers and 130 planes American pilots and submariners sank three Japanese carriers (Taiho, Shokaku, Hiyo), damaged two additional carriers (Chiyoda, Zuikaku), a battleship (Haruna ) and a cruiser and, most importantly, destroyed 436 enemy aircraft. This left what remained of the 1st Mobile Fleet with only thirty-five aircraft and pilots. Planes could be quickly replaced. Pilots could not. The disaster in the Philippine Sea set the stage for the final destruction of the Imperial Japanese Navy at Leyte Gulf and the ground forces in the Marianas isolated. Without hope of supplies and reinforcements, faced with the might of Task Force 58, the garrisons of Saipan, Guam and Tinian, no matter how well dug in or determined, could not long resist.

Peleliu Operation Stalemate 15 SEP – 25 NOV 1944
Commanders William Rupertus Kunio Nakagawa
Opposing Forces 1st MARDIV
81st INF DIV
500 ships
2nd Inf Reg / 14th Div
2 Bn of the 15th Inf Reg
1 Bn of the 53rd Bde
1 Tank Bn
1 Naval Guard Unit
Misc Artillery & AA units
1 81mm Mortar Co
1 155mm Mortar Co
1 Labor Bn
Casualties 1500 KIA
6700 WIA
10695 KIA
202 POW (19 Japanese,
183 Korean & Okinawan laborers)


Six miles long and two miles wide Peleliu is dominated by the Umurbrogols, a jumble of sharp coral ridges and steep draws covered with dense jungle vegetation. In spite of extensive reconnaissance very little accurate intelligence had been gathered prior to landing. Not until the thick growth had been burned and blasted away did the Marines fully realize what they were up against. Taking advantage of naturally occurring caves the Japanese constructed over 500 interconnected and mutually supporting tunnels and hardened fighting points. Some positions held only a few men, others, four or five stories deep and well provisioned, housed several hundred battle tested Japanese troops. Elaborate defenses were just the beginning of the agony that was Peleliu. Realizing they could no longer count on air and naval support to defend the outer ring of islands the Japanese had also changed their tactics. Colonel Kunio Nakagawa told his men, "Make the American Marines come to you – and when they do, kill them." For seventy-two days his men, fanatically obedient to the last, did just that. An attack by fifteen tanks with supporting infantry on the afternoon of D-Day was the only time the Japanese defenders ventured into the open. For the remainder of the campaign they had to be burned, blasted and dug out from concealed positions exacting a terrible price from the 1st Marine Division.

After three days and 1400 tons of preliminary bombardment Admiral Jesse Oldendorf declared, "There are no more targets. I have destroyed everything." and the Marines went in. He was decidedly wrong. After one week of bitter fighting the 1st Battalion / 1st Regiment of the 1st Marines had suffered 70% casualties. Not since the civil war had casualty figures run so high. Over the strenuous objections of Colonel 'Chesty' Puller and the inflexible General Rupertus, who stubbornly insisted on costly frontal assaults, General Geiger ordered the unit withdrawn replacing it with a Regimental Combat Team from the 81st Infantry Division. At this point the attack became a siege. Close air support was crucial. After the airfield was captured Marine Corsairs would take off, make bombing or strafing runs and land again within five or ten minutes to rearm. Many pilots didn't bother to raise their landing gear. Peleliu also saw extensive use of Napalm. On the ground men used bazookas, tanks and flamethrowers to blast the Japanese strong points. Manhandling 75mm pack howitzers to the top of ridges to fire point blank into cave openings; the soldiers and Marines destroyed the Japanese positions one by one. Enduring a deadly crossfire from seemingly all directions men climbed to the top of caves and lowered satchel charges of TNT into the openings to collapse them. Armored bulldozers completed the job of sealing the hapless defenders inside.

Given sixty years to reflect many now claim Peleliu was an unnecessary battle. Air and naval forces had effectively isolated and neutralized the Carolines eliminating the threat to MacArthur's flank when he liberated the Philippines. Perhaps they are correct but the lessons learned at Peleliu would prove invaluable in preparing for Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Iwo Jima Operation Detachment 16 FEB – 26 MAR 1945
Commanders Harry Schmidt Tadamichi Kuribayashi
Opposing Forces 3rd MARDIV
4th MARDIV
5th MARDIV
880 supporting ships
109th Inf Div
2nd Independent Mixed Bde
145th Inf Reg
1 Bn of the 17th Inf Reg
26th Tank Reg
7000 Naval Personnel
Casualties 6821 KIA
19217 WIA
2648 Combat Fatigue
21,000 KIA
1083 POW


Roughly triangular in shape Iwo Jima consists of eight square miles of volcanic rock and sand dominated by Mount Suribachi. Strategically significant to the Japanese as an early warning station and fighter base to protect the home islands from American air raids its three airfields were equally coveted by the U. S. Army Air Force. The struggle for Iwo Jima was not a battle in the conventional sense of the term. The struggle is better described as an especially vicious fight between gladiators staged deep in the bowels of the earth. No quarter was asked and none was given. In a brutal thirty-six day test of wills 21,000 Japanese soldiers would perish on Iwo Jima and one of every three Marines who landed there became a casualty.

General Tadamichi Kuribayashi had orders to delay the Americans as long as possible, exacting maximum casualties, buying time for the home islands to plan for invasion. He prepared his forces well. Sixteen miles of tunnels connected approximately 1500 rooms, bunkers and pillboxes. Some spaces, up to 75 feet underground and provided with electricity, water and ventilation, served as barracks, ammunition and fuel dumps, command posts and galleys. As they had on Peleliu, the fighting positions were mutually supporting with interlocking fields of fire. In this carefully prepared labyrinth of death the enemy could not attack one position without coming under fire from several others.

Critical mistakes were repeated on the American side. Reconnaissance missions revealed the extensive construction under way on Iwo Jima. Still, in a gross miscalculation of Japanese strength, Navy intelligence estimated the number of enemy troops at 4,000-11,000 when in fact 22,000 soldiers garrisoned the island. For seventy-two days B-17's, B-24's and B-29's rained 5,800 tons of bombs on the hapless island. This was followed by an intense preliminary bombardment the morning of D-Day. It was all sound and fury signifying nothing.

According to plan Kuribayashi allowed several waves to land unmolested. When the beaches were crowded with men and equipment his troops cut loose inflicting ten per-cent casualties by the end of the first day. At night small patrols emerged from their underground lairs to terrorize the Marines. Using infiltration tactics rather than the wasteful Banzai charges of previous battles, they crept into American positions ensuring the weary Marines got no rest.

The Marines were not the only American forces to suffer at Iwo Jima. At Peleliu the Japanese introduced the tactic of Fukkaku or 'Endurance Engagements.' At Iwo Jima IGHQ increased the number of Kamikaze attacks first seen at Leyte Gulf. Kamikazes disabled the aircraft carrier Saratoga and sank the escort carrier Bismark Sea . Many other ships were damaged. The navy endured and using grenades, satchel charges of TNT and flamethrowers, the Marines prevailed. Those Japanese they could not blast or burn out they buried alive. Unfortunately worse was to come.

Nearly 7000 Marines lost their lives on Iwo Jima. Nearly 20,000 were wounded. To put these figures into perspective consider this image: The 5th Marine Division sailed to Iwo Jima on twenty-two very crowded transports. The survivors berthed comfortably on eight departing ships. As Oliver North notes in War Stories II: Heroism in the Pacific , "More Marines died there than in any other battle in the Pacific in WWII. And more U.S. Marines earned the Medal of Honor on Iwo Jima than in any other battle in U.S. history." Over the next four months however more than 2400 B-29's crewed by some 27,000 aviators made emergency landings on Iwo Jima saving far more lives than were lost.

Okinawa Operation Iceberg 01 APR – 21 JUN 1945
Commanders Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.
10th Army
Mitsuru Ushijima
32nd Army
Opposing Forces 1st MARDIV
6th MARDIV
2nd MARDIV
7th INF DIV
27th INF DIV
77th INF DIV
96th INF DIV
1300 ships including 40 carriers and 18 battleships
430 AMTRACs
24th Inf Div
62nd Inf Div
44th Independent Mxd Bde
5th Artillery Command
11th Shipping Group
27th Tank regiment
Boetai - Home Guard
Opposing Forces 1st MARDIV
6th MARDIV
2nd MARDIV
7th INF DIV
27th INF DIV
77th INF DIV
96th INF DIV
1300 ships including 40 carriers and 18 battleships
430 AMTRACs
24th Inf Div
62nd Inf Div
44th Independent Mxd Bde
5th Artillery Command
11th Shipping Group
27th Tank regiment
Boetai - Home Guard
Casualties 15,900 KIA
38,000 WIA
26,000 Combat Fatigue
34 ships sunk
368 ships damaged
763 planes destroyed
Approximately
107,500 KIA
(23,750 sealed in caves)
10,750 POW
140,000 CIV KIA / primarily by suicide
7830 aircraft destroyed
16 ships sunk


April Fool's Day 1945 was also Easter Sunday. It was L-Day (Landing Day) on Okinawa as well. It would be the first time foreign invaders set foot on what the Japanese considered sacred soil, the first major Allied amphibious assault in the Pacific [10], the largest sea-air-land battle in history and, although no one realized it at the time, the last battle of World War II.

Okinawa was a repeat of Iwo Jima on a vastly larger scale. Sixty miles long, hilly and pierced with an extensive cave system the Japanese had enlarged many of the caves, excavated new caverns and connected these bombproof shelters with an elaborate network of tunnels all supporting strategically placed artillery positions and machinegun nests. The underground galleries were provisioned with enough food, water, ammunition and fuel for a prolonged siege, which was exactly what General Mitsuru Ushijima had in mind. While his army savaged the American forces on the ground, the remnants of the Japanese navy and air force would ravage the supporting Allied fleet at sea. Perhaps this calculated sacrifice would deter an invasion of the Home Islands and lead to a negotiated peace settlement. Or so Tokyo hoped.

Beginning in March the Allies unleashed what the natives termed a "tetsu no bow"[11] or Storm of Steel. On L-Day the Navy followed with the heaviest concentration of naval gunfire ever expended in support of an amphibious landing. Ten older battleships (including the Pearl Harbor survivors Tennessee, Maryland and West Virginia), nine cruisers, twenty-three destroyers and 117 rocket gunboats hurled 3,800 tons of ordnance at Okinawa in the first twenty-four hours. Surface structures were obliterated but the 32nd Army weathered the storm in safety. Once again the navy had overestimated the impact of a general bombardment and once again intelligence assets had underestimated the number of Japanese defending the island. Once again the Japanese allowed an unopposed landing. Not only the beachhead but also two airfields were secured on the first day. In five days 10th Army advanced to the east coast and cleared the northern portion of the island. Then, on 06 April, they encountered the 120,000 men (vice an estimated 50,000 men) entrenched on the Shuri line. For seven weeks the battle raged on land as the Japanese launched thousands of Kamikaze and conventional air attacks on the supporting fleet. At a cost of nearly 8,000 men and aircraft these attacks damaged the British carriers Indefatigable and Illustrious and the American carriers Wasp and Franklin , killed nearly 5,000 sailors and wounded nearly 5,000 more but sank nothing larger than a destroyer utterly failing to drive off the Allied fleet.

In one of the most ill considered missions of the war the super battleship Yamato , the light cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers sortied to support the air assault. American carrier planes destroyed these doomed warships hundreds of miles from their intended target. It was the last action of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the war.

Although stridently urged by the Marines to use the amphibious forces at his disposal to land behind the Shuri line and shorten the battle General Buckner on Okinawa proved even more obdurate than General Rupertus on Peleliu obstinately persisting in costly frontal attacks. As the conflict drug on torrential rains turned the battlefield into a fetid mire of decomposing bodies, rotting garbage, human waste and noxious mud. In spite of the appalling conditions the 10th Army pushed on. Heavy pressure and rising casualties finally convinced General Ushijima he could no longer hold the Shuri line. On 23 May his army began withdrawing to its final defensive position on the Kiyamu peninsula. It would take two more weeks of hard fighting and an additional two weeks of 'mopping up' before Okinawa was declared secure.

Okinawa generated two more firsts in the closing days of the battle. Cut down by shrapnel on 18 June Lieutenant General Buckner became the highest-ranking American officer killed in action during the war. Temporarily relieving him, Major General Roy Geiger became the only Marine and the only American aviator to command a field army.

Appalled by the casualty figures on Iwo Jima and Okinawa President Truman cancelled the planned invasion of Japan opting instead to use the atomic bomb to end the war. It was a wise decision. When the war ended occupation forces found 12,000 aircraft of all types including advanced jet and rocket powered fighters stored in secret underground factories. In yet another failure this came as a complete surprise to Allied intelligence officers who thought the Japanese aircraft industry had been completely destroyed by the strategic bombing campaign. Had Operation Olympic taken place IGHQ was prepared to launch Kamikaze attacks on a truly massive scale, sacrificing the entire population of Japan if necessary. Considering the alternative, the two atomic weapons were the most humanitarian way to end the war.

Improvements:

07 December 1941 found the United States totally unprepared for what would be an amphibious war on a global scale. It possessed little more than an untested doctrine, Fleet Training Publication 167 – Landing Operations Doctrine, U. S. Navy, an aroused public and the will to win. The beginnings were sloppy and costly. But as problems were identified, changes were made in doctrine and American industry provided the tools required in unprecedented numbers. To list just a few examples:
• From crude Higgins Boats to an infinite variety of LCVPs, LCMs and LCIs
• From makeshift amphibious ships to purpose built LSTs and LSDs
• From civilian cargo ships and passenger liners hastily refitted and pressed into service to APAs and AKAs
• From thin skinned, open topped, under gunned LVTs to highly capable LVT(A)4s mounting 75mm howitzers and flame throwers
• From unreliable communications to purpose built Amphibious Command and Control ships[12]
• From badly coordinated Combined Arms Support to fully integrated Naval Gunfire and Close Air Support directed by landing party personnel
• From the reconnaissance disaster at Tarawa to greatly expanded Underwater Demolition Teams
• From the deadly classroom known as on the job training to hundreds of special purpose schools such as the Kahoolawe Gunnery School in Hawaii and the Amphibious Training Center, Camp Gordon Johnston in Florida
• From the logistics disaster of TORCH to complete mastery of the art of combat loading

Lessons Learned:


To oppose a landing three types of defensive strategies are possible – a naval and/or air defense, a defense at the waters edge and a mobile defense. A naval and/or air defense is preemptive in nature – blockading or attacking embarkation ports, interdicting enemy forces at sea and denying sea and air control at the invasion point. A defense at the waters edge involves construction of fixed fortifications. It is exceptionally costly in men and material but engages the attacker when he is most vulnerable – during the ship to shore movement.[13] A mobile defense is the most efficient use of men and material but gives up the best opportunity to destroy the enemy when he is most at risk. A mobile defense also requires excellent intelligence regarding enemy intentions in order to make a sound decision on the release of reserves and at least air parity. Naturally the most effective defense would be some combination of all three.

During World War II German strategy went from a mobile defense, nearly succeeding at Gela and Salerno, to a defense at the waters edge at Normandy necessitated by the declining power of the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine. Japan, on the other hand, went from a defense at the waters edge at Tarawa to an attempted Air and Naval defense at Okinawa.[14] For a variety of reasons neither Germany nor Japan were able to mount an effective air and naval defense fully integrated with a strong ground defense.[15] Germany lacked the naval strength and never possessed a strategic air force with which to mount a complete defense. Such a defense would have been most effective in the target rich environment of the English Channel on 06 June 1944. Japan used its navy and air force unwisely in 1942/43 and by 1944/45 also no longer possessed the capability to mount a complete defense forcing IGHQ to resort to the desperate measure of Kamikaze attacks. Other Axis shortcomings include:

• Neither used submarines or mines as effectively as they could have in an anti-invasion role.
• Japan especially had problems with target priorities. To the bitter end her pilots preferred attacking warships vice the more vulnerable and more strategically important troop transport and supply ships.
• Due to the nature of dictatorships, in which the various organizations of the state vie for power, inter service rivalries precluded unity of command and coordination of efforts even when it became imperative to save the Reich / Empire.

On the Allied side of the equation, after much expenditure of blood certain lessons learned became accepted practice. Specifics have been addressed in the body of this paper. To list just a few general observations:

• In the realm of amphibious assaults there is no substitute for overwhelming superiority on land, at sea and in the air at the point of attack. On an island, against a well-entrenched enemy, there is no room for maneuver. Opposition must be crushed and crushed quickly. That requires overwhelming firepower.
• Combined Arms Support is critical to success. General bombardments are generally ineffective however. Naval Gunfire Support (NGFS) and Close Air Support (CAS) are most effective when directed by landing party personnel against specific targets, i.e. – calls for fire.
• Momentum is everything. The speed of the American advance kept the Japanese strategically off balance preventing them from fortifying their island bastions as thoroughly as they desired and from coordinating Army, Navy and Air Force efforts more effectively.
• Logistics is the key to momentum. Without the unsung heroes of the supply and support ships [16] 5th Fleet would have been hamstrung presenting the Japanese with time to devise an even more deadly defense of the Home Islands.
• For every evolution in the Navy there is a checklist. The inexperienced deride this practice as inflexible or overcautious not realizing every item on those lists was paid for in blood. Doctrine, training and experience transformed the chaos of Torch into the controlled and sustained evolutions of Normandy and Okinawa.
• Even in optimal situations Murphy's First Law of Combat (Anything that can go wrong will go wrong) will intervene. Junior officers and junior NCO's must be trained to take the initiative, to exercise what is termed SNAFU leadership.

Differences

Due to the shortage of aircraft carriers amphibious assaults in the European Theatre of Operations were tied to land based air support. Fortunately the geography of Europe favored this method of operation. Once ashore campaigns were generally methodical in nature. Not until Patton's breakout from Normandy and race across France did the American army move with celerity. Differences in organization allowed the Army to become proficient in combined arms early on. Strong points were masked and reduced with massed artillery and air power. MacArthur's drive through the Southwest Pacific followed similar lines. Each of his amphibious jumps was calculated based on the range of land-based air cover.

In the Central Pacific operations naturally depended upon carrier air power. A strong Japanese Navy and Air Force early on and the threat of Kamikazes later in the war demanded assaults be concluded as quickly as possible. This was in keeping with the spirit of the Marine Corps as a light infantry force. Proficiency at combined arms came more slowly to the Marines. The carnage at Tarawa and the subsequent reorganization of Marine divisions sped up the process. Maritime geography also mandated the development of LVTs and AMTRACs to negotiate the barrier reefs that protected most of the Pacific islands.

Commanders in the ETO tended to forgo or abbreviate preliminary bombardments in order to maintain the element of surprise. The Japanese endured massive sea and air attacks. These increased in duration and total weight of shot as the Pacific war continued. Neither tactic achieved the desired results.

Conclusion

American efforts during World War II were far from perfect. America suffered its fair share of fools and inefficiencies. Overall however, thanks to its tremendous industrial capacity the United States was able to bring irresistible land, sea and air forces against the Axis powers at any point of its choosing. The United States also possessed the intellectual flexibility to adapt its amphibious doctrine to emergent problems and evolving situations. Finally American workers possessed the mechanical ingenuity to find technical solutions to the harsh conditions and constantly changing demands of war. No nation however rich or alliance of nations however powerful could prevail in the face of such capability. As J. F. C. Fuller noted the amphibious doctrine developed in the Pacific was "the most far-reaching tactical innovation of the war." Backed by the industrial might of the United States, American forces proved unstoppable despite the best efforts of the Axis powers.

That capability was purchased with the blood of thousands, a price beyond monetary value. Those who claim amphibious assaults have no place in modern warfare would do well to remember that as recently as 1991 the threat of a sea borne invasion from the Persian Gulf kept Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard pinned in Kuwait and western Iraq while General Schwarzkopf enveloped their right flank beginning the rout that was Desert Storm . The ability to attack by land, sea or air is a tremendous force multiplier. Yet now, due to budget constraints, Congress is considering a plan that would reduce the American fleet to 260 ships, cut amphibious forces to seventeen vessels and eliminate all mine warfare craft.

* 2006 2014 2019 2024 2035
Carriers 11 11 11 11 10
Surface Combatants 102 126 145 156 130
SSN/SSGN 58 57 53 49 41
SSBN 14 14 14 14 14
Amphibious Ships 35 32 31 31 17
MPF 0 5 17 19 19
Mine Warfare 17 14 10 1 0
CLF 34 30 32 25 24
Support Ships 18 16 10 8 5
[*Plan / table prepared by the Navy's Surface Warfare Division at the direction of Deputy CNO Vice Admiral Joseph Sestak and submitted to Congress 23 March 2005.]

Granted today's ships and aircraft are far more lethal than their World War II counterparts and LCACs and Helicopters greatly expand amphibious capabilities. After reviewing the price paid in blood to build an amphibious force second to none and considering the current state of world affairs however, is it prudent to voluntarily surrender what Liddell Hart called "the greatest strategic asset that a sea-based power possesses."

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Footnotes

[1]. For the invasion of Guadalcanal Nimitz was able to scrape together a mere 82 ships. An armada of over 1300 ships converged on Okinawa.

[2]. When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 the United States Army ranked 17th in the world – smaller and less capable than that of Romania. In spite of the obvious warning signs little was done to change that embarrassing statistic prior to 07 December 1941. As should be expected of a hurriedly raised and hastily trained force, when the Allies invaded North Africa American performance was inept. As Rick Atkinson writes in An Army at Dawn, "TORCH revealed profound shortcomings in leadership, tactics, martial élan and common sense. General Truscott concluded that the landings would have been a "disaster against a well-armed enemy intent upon resistance." Only luck, valor and French hesitation prevented the Americans from being thrown back into the Atlantic." Fortunately the American army matured quickly.

[3]. Atkinson, An Army at Dawn, 83

[4]. Ibid, 139

[5]. Colonel-General Jurgen von Arnim relieved Nehring 08 December 1942. Operating in concert with Rommel's retreating Afrika Korps, Axis forces delayed the Allies for six months. Hitler ordered Rommel and several other favorites out of Africa when the outcome became inevitable. The ignominy of surrender fell to Arnim on 13 May 1943.

[6]. What Rommel might have achieved with these resources a year earlier is one of the fascinating 'what ifs' of history. He must have cursed the high command that poured troops into Africa now that it was too late.

[7]. Stephen E. Ambrose, D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climatic Battle of World War II, 63

[8]. Hedgehogs – star shaped, six-foot obstacles, constructed of steel girders and topped with mines.

[9]. Belgian gates – large pieces of steel ten feet high set perpendicular to the beach and topped with mines.

[10]. At Okinawa a British force joined the 5th Fleet. Task Force 57 under the command of Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings consisted of four carriers, two battleships, five cruisers and fifteen destroyers. The armored flight decks of the British carriers would provide a significant advantage in the upcoming air battle.

[11]. Also called - Tetsu no ame / rain of steel, Tetsu no bofu / violent wind of steel.

[12]. During TORCH communications were lost every time the main battery of the USS Augusta fired. In the same manner radios were disabled onboard USS Maryland during the assault on Tarawa negatively impacting coordination of NGFS with landing party personnel.

[13]. Helicopters and Air Cushioned Landing Craft (LCACs) have opened 70 per cent of the world's coastline to invasion making this form of defense even more costly in terms of allocation of resources and therefore even less attractive.

[14]. For all their horror the Kamikazes were ultimately ineffective. 8000 planes and pilots were sacrificed in return for 34 ships sunk, none larger than a destroyer, and 368 ships damaged – not a good exchange ratio. These actions also helped convince President Truman the atomic bomb was preferable to invasion.

[15]. Germany came close to victory at Casablanca where its U-Boats wreaked havoc on Admiral Hewitt's supporting vessels. Combined with a more vigorous air and ground defense these naval actions might have been decisive. As General Patton noted, "Had the landings been opposed by Germans we would have never gotten ashore." The most complete and therefore most formidable Japanese defense came at Guadalcanal. IGHQ reacted vigorously to the American landings with air attacks launched from Rabaul and a series of naval engagements (Savo Island, Eastern Solomons, Cape Esperance, Santa Cruz Island, Guadalcanal and Tassafaronga). Thanks to a decided superiority in night operations the Japanese inflicted several crushing defeats on Allied squadrons attempting to stop the Tokyo Express. Fortunately the campaign in New Guinea took priority and when Buna fell the Japanese withdrew from Guadalcanal.

[16]. Just as Combat Loading sustained the soldiers and Marines ashore, Underway Replenishment (UNREP) sustained the combat fleets at sea. This proficiency allowed Allied fleets to remain on station as long as required.

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Bibliography

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www.army.mil/cmh

www.cgsc.army.mil

www.gebirgsjaeger

www.naval-history.net

www.usmm.org

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Copyright © 2005 Larry Parker

Written by Larry Parker. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Larry Parker at:
lknpark2004@yahoo.com.

About the Author:
Lieutenant Commander Larry Parker, United States Navy, served as a Surface Warfare Officer, with afloat tours onboard USS De Wert (FFG-45) as Ordnance & Fire Control Officer, USS Portland (LSD-37) as First Lieutenant, and USS Butte (AE-27) as Operations Officer. Rotations ashore included Navy Reserve Center Cheyenne, Navy & Marine Corps Reserve Center Denver and Navy Reserve Readiness Command Region 16 Minneapolis. He retired in July 2000 and taught Navy Junior ROTC until June 2011. LCDR Parker holds a Bachelor's degree in English and History from the University of Kansas and a Master's degree in Military Studies - Land Warfare from American Military University. In his free time LCDR Parker pursues a lifelong passion for military history. His articles are the result of extensive research and personal experience in surface warfare, fleet logistics and amphibious operations.

Published online: 04/16/2005.
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