V AMPHIBIOUS CORPS
"Victory was never in doubt. Its cost was.... What was in doubt, in all our minds, was whether there would be any of us left to dedicate our cemetery at the end, or whether the last Marine would die knocking out the last Japanese gun and gunner..."
- Major General Graves B. Erskine, Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division
In February 1945, V Amphibious Corps (VAC) under the command of Major General Henry Schmidt "the Dutchman", made up of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Marine Divisions, assaulted the island of Iwo Jima. In the one month it took to secure Iwo Jima, the Corps suffered close to 30 percent casualties. The majority of the casualties were inflicted on the cutting edge of the divisions: the combat experienced infantrymen.
This casualty rate would play a significant role as the VAC trained for its next mission. It would require a lengthy train-up period due to the number of raw recruits the divisions were to receive during the summer of 1945. On 29 March 1945, with Iwo Jima secure, General Schmidt and his staff returned to the Hawaiian Islands and established a new command post on Maui. The Fourth Marine Division returned to Maui, the Fifth Marine Division to the big island of Hawaii, and the Third Marine Division to Guam. Throughout April, VAC Headquarters planned for further operations in the southern Ryukyus. On 3 May 1945, Fleet Marine Force Pacific (FMFPAC) directed General Schmidt to discontinue planning on the Ryukyus and to begin planning for a field army level operation on the China coast. However, on 27 May, this operation was canceled and General Schmidt was notified that the new target was to be the Japanese home islands.(1)
General Schmidt reported for planning purposes to General Krueger, Commanding General Sixth Army, on 2 June 1945. Due to the distance between Hawaii and Kyushu, and a target date of 1 November, embarkation for VAC was anticipated to begin in late August. This would leave less than three months to plan and train for the operation.
The V Amphibious Corps mission in the southern Kyushu assault was to:
...land on the west coast of southern Kyushu in the Kaminokawa - Kushikino area, secure a Corps beachhead to include Sendai, protect the northwest flank of Sixth Army, and block the advance of hostile forces from the north, along the west coast; then advance inland when directed and seize the general line Kagoshima - Kawakamicho - Ichiino - Sendai, in order to assist in the establishment of air and naval forces in southern Kyushu for support of operations into the industrial heart of Japan.(2)
The naval force which would transport and land the V Amphibious Corps was the Fifth Amphibious Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Harry W. Hill. The Fifth Amphibious Force had overall naval responsibility for the Amphibious phases of VAC's landing. Two amphibious groups made up the Fifth Amphibious Force.
- Amphibious Group Four, commanded by Rear Admiral Lawrence F. Reifsnider, was to conduct movement to target, ship-to-shore movement, and naval gunfire and air support during and after the initial landings.
- Amphibious Group Five, commanded by Rear Admiral Jerauld Wright, was to conduct preliminary bombardment, as well as all other advance amphibious operations off of VAC's beaches.(3) To accomplish this task, Admiral Wright had a force of four old battleships, ten cruisers, fourteen destroyers, and seventy-four support craft.
On 15 June, CINCAFPAC notified all concerned that the Second Marine Division located on Saipan would replace the Fourth Marine Division for Operation Olympic. Since the Second Marine Division had prepared for the assault on Okinawa, but was not committed to the fighting, it was at full strength and fully trained. The Second Marine Division reported to VAC for planning purposes on 19 June 1945.
With receipt of the mission V Amphibious Corps staff became concerned about the probable requirements of land-mass operations upon an Amphibious Corps which had heretofore operated entirely against limited, if bitterly-defended, island objectives.(4)
Sixth Army representatives flew to Hawaii on 24 June to brief General Schmidt and his staff of the parent headquarters scheme of maneuver for the invasion. Sixth Army had planned for the Marines of V Amphibious Corps to land along the southwest coast of Kyushu across the beaches in the Kamino-kawa area. From this beachhead the Marines would push north and east to secure the port of Kagoshima.
After several days of discussion with his staff, General Schmidt dispatched Brigadier General William A. Rogers, his Chief of Staff, to the Philippines on 28 June to meet with General Krueger to present an alternative plan. General Schmidt wished to land astride the beaches near Kushikino, which was approximately 10 miles north of the Sixth Army proposed landing sites near Izaku. VAC entailed landings astride the western Kyushu beaches just south of Kushikino, by two Marine division abreast, with the initial mission of securing a Corps beachhead including Sendai and then the general line Kagoshima - Kawakimicho - Ichiino - Sendai.(5) From a beachhead at Kushinko, VAC would push southeast across the narrow peninsula to secure Kagoshima.
General Krueger approved the proposed VAC landing site and the VAC Chief of Staff returned to Hawaii on 6 July. Just one day later, on 7 July, General Schmidt and his staff departed Hawaii for a conference of the landing force commanders in the Philippines. On 9 July, while the V Amphibious Corps staff was enroute to the Philippines, the first tentative draft of VAC Operation Plan 1-45 was completed and published. Also while enroute, General Schmidt stopped over on Saipan to confer with Major General LeRoy P. Hunt, Commanding General of the Second Marine Division. The conference with Sixth Army was held on Luzon, Philippines between 11 to 13 July. At this conference the general scheme of maneuver for Sixth Army was decided and coordination of the shipping, embarkation, movement, rehearsals, and advance force operations were discussed.
On the return trip to Hawaii, General Schmidt stopped over on Guam and held a conference with the Second and Third Marine Division Commanding Generals & staffs. General Schmidt and his staff finally arrived back at their headquarters in Maui on 17 July. Six days later, on 23 July, General Schmidt briefed his plan to the Commanders of the Fleet Marine Force Pacific, Fifth Amphibious Force, and Amphibious Group Four, as well as certain representatives present from CINCPAC and Amphibious Force Pacific Fleet (PHIBSPAC). During his presentation, the discussion centered on a shortage of assault-shipping space available for lift of vehicles from the Fifth Marine Division in Hawaii, and to the possibility of adjusting the tentative target-date some three or four days to meet much more favorable conditions of tide calculated for 4 November.(6) CINCPAC representatives took it as an issue for consideration; however the war ended before a decision was made. After this briefing, the second tentative draft of VAC Operation Plan 1-45 was completed and published.
During the first week of August 1945, the Commanding Generals and staffs of the Second, Third, and Fifth Marine Divisions flew to Maui to confer with the V Amphibious Corps staff. On 6 and 7 August, VAC presented the invasion plan to the division commanders. Commanders of the Fifth Amphibious Force, Amphibious Groups 4 and 5, Transportation Squadrons 12 and 24; and the Commanding General, Corps Artillery, and Sixth Army representatives were in attendance. All division plans were also presented at this conference.(7)
Because of the great distances between Sixth Army and the V Amphibious Corps, as well as between VAC and its subordinate divisions, there were difficulties of maintaining close liaison. Considerable delay occurred in receiving material from the Sixth Army and in turn passing information on to the divisions.(8) A significant shortfall during the planning phase was the lack of low altitude aerial photographic coverage; this restricted progress in certain aspects of the plan, particularly air and naval gunfire planning. There was also a lack of definite information of the character of the landing beaches.(9)
On 9 August 1945, just one day before the Imperial Japanese Government sued for peace, VAC Operation Plan No. 1-45, the final V Amphibious Corps draft for Olympic, was issued for the southern Kyushu landings.
The Amphibious Objective Area
The terrain of Southern Kyushu lent itself to a strong defense. The 22 mile long beach on the western shore of Satsuma extends inland about 300 feet to a sharply rising ridge approximately fifty feet high. This ridge paralleled the beach and presented a natural obstacle to landing forces; it could be used by the Japanese forces for protection against naval gunfire, and provided solid ground into which emplacements for troops and weapons could be dug. Artillery fire from the hills and mountains would cover the beaches, the ridge, and the flat terrain immediately inland. The plains surrounding the landing beaches are backed by rugged hills, which were being heavily fortified by the Japanese, and which provided him with excellent observation for his artillery and mortar fire. Well developed cave defenses and tactics of the type encountered at Okinawa would likely be met throughout the area.(10) The terrain immediately inland from the beach on the northern route of advance, toward Sendai, consists of terraced fields which have stone revetments forming the sides of the terraces. The Gotanda-Gawa River presents a natural obstacle in itself, and one which is enlarged by steep stone and concrete banks which line the river at many places. The Gotanda-Gawa would delay attacking forces advancing on Sendai. North of the river, the route of advance leads through a corridor flanked by high mountains and vertical cliffs.
The southern route of advance, leading eastward to the city of Kagoshima, runs initially across a marshy plain and then enters a corridor through the mountains. This corridor, which extends all the way across the peninsula to the city itself, is a winding valley which follows the bed of several small streams. At many places the valley is less than 100 yards wide and cliffs on each side rise to a height of 200 to 300 feet. Underground shelters dug in the faces of cliffs consisted of single straight tunnels about 15 feet deep, and of networks of similar tunnels connected by smaller man made caves.(11) These mutually supporting defensive positions were similar to those found on Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
In the landing area, the road net was entirely inadequate. The only road which traversed the route of advance was the National Highway leading from the landing beaches, through the corridor across the peninsula to Kagoshima. It was a 25 mile long, 24 foot wide stretch of gravel road. There were three river crossings and two villages on the road between Kushikino and Kagoshima. Deviation from this route would have necessitated long detours over poor roads and trails in very mountainous terrain.(12) After the war, the G-2 of the V Amphibious Corps, LtCol. Gooderham L. McCormick, walked the ground where the Marines would have landed and made the following statement:
Certainly the defender had ideal terrain for a stubborn defense in depth...The attacking forces would have been faced with the necessity of frontal assault and canalized routes of advance. Mechanized advance would have been extremely difficult and confined.(13)
The V Amphibious Corps had a total strength of around 80,056 Marines and sailors. The combat power of the VAC resided in the three Marine divisions, which numbered approximately 59,898 Marines and sailors. The Second Marine Division, commanded by Major General LeRoy P. Hill, was made up of the surviving veterans of the bloody battles on Tarawa and Saipan. The Third Marine Division, commanded by Major General Graves B. Erskine, were veterans of Bougainville, Guam, and Iwo Jima.(14) And the Fifth Marine Division, commanded by Major General Thomas E. Bourke, although seeing its first action on Iwo Jima, had many Marines in the division that were veterans of the Guadalcanal and Tarawa. While the majority of Marines of the V Amphibious Corps were combat veterans, approximately one third of the force was composed of new recruits. This large pool of new recruits required the divisions to begin their train-up period with basic individual skill and small unit training. However, the experienced combat tested Marines knew exactly what to teach the new Marines.
The principal task organized combat unit of the Marine divisions was the Regimental Combat Team (RCT), of which there were three per division. For Operation Olympic, six RCTs would be making the assault and three would be in reserve. For fire support, the divisions had their own organic artillery regiments; in support, VAC had its Corps Artillery. The Corps Artillery was comprised of four battalions of 155mm guns.
For air support of the Corps landing, eight escort carriers (CVEs) with a total of approximately 240 carrier aircraft would provide direct close support. The CVEs, under the control of Admiral Turner, were to be placed in direct support of VAC. Tactical air observers and artillery air spotters from all the committed divisions and from Corps would be on station during daylight hours. One tactical observer from the Corps would be on station during the hours of darkness for night observation missions. Sixteen OY-1s, flying from a hastily constructed airstrip built by the 40th Infantry Division on Koshiki Retto, would provide the observation platforms. Also, 40 air observers and air-spotters were to be embarked on the carriers for initial operations in carrier-based aircraft.(15)
The First Marine Aircraft Wing, based first in the Ryukyus and then in Kyushu, was to provide close air support to VAC and to the Fleet. The Second Marine Aircraft Wing, flying out of Okinawa, would defend Okinawa, protect shipping, and support Fleet Air Wing One. The Third and Fourth Marine Aircraft Wings were to execute Force and Area tasks as assigned.(16) All of the MAWs were initially to be under the control of Fifth Fleet. As airfields were established on Kyushu, the MAWs would deploy there, at which time they would come under the control of the Far East Air Forces.
Naval gunfire support to the V Amphibious Corps during the initial landings included four old battleships, three heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, and eleven destroyers.(17) In comparison, the bombardment of Iwo Jima was carried out by six old battleships, five heavy cruisers and ten destroyers. While the Corps landings on Kyushu were to cover a larger area and against more difficult terrain, in effect less naval gunfire support was to be provided.
Concept of Operations
Advance force operations were to begin on X-8 Day.(18) (see Figure 10) Advance force operations in VAC's zone of action would be executed by the Fifth Fire Support Group under Amphibious Group Five. Advance force operations included establishing radar pickets to screen the assembling armada, and to direct and support minesweeping and UDT operations; destroy enemy troops, gun emplacements, defensive installations, locally based aircraft, submarines, and small craft; interrupt enemy troop movements and defensive preparations by interdiction and harassing fires by naval gunfire and assigned aircraft; and to neutralize or destroy enemy installations which might interfere with the approach of Amphibious Group Four which carried the assault forces.
The plan of fires for X-Day called for a general intensification of beach bombardment commencing at dawn on 1 November. Naval fires would be lifted from N-55 to N-35 (N being the hour of the landing) while, under cover of a massive air-strikes, ships took station for prelanding fires. The landing craft would advance behind a 5"-38 rolling barrage calculated upon the following assumptions:
a) Main Point of Impact 400 yards ahead of troops.
b) Rate of advance of LVT, 150 yards per minute.
c) Rate of troop-advance, 100 yards / 12 minutes.
d) 20 minutes of troop reorganization on beaches within an area 200-400 yards in depth, prior to commencement of advance inland.
The foregoing assumptions represented the consensus of all divisions, and were based upon their experience at Iwo Jima.(19)
The Second and Third Marine Divisions were to land abreast, with the Second on the right. (see Map 6) The Fifth Marine Division was designated as the VAC reserve. The Third Division initially was to be the main effort to force the corridor to Sendai and secure the line of the Sendai-Gawa to the north. The Second Division was to press inland through the corridor to seize Kagoshima. The Fifth Marine Division would probably have been committed in the Second Marine Division's zone to either lend fresh impetus to the drive on Kagoshima or to protect the VAC right (south) flank. The Corps artillery was to be divided into two groups, the stronger of which would be to the north in support of the Third Marine Division.(20) Once Kagoshima was secured, the Fifth Marine Division would advance north to secure the Kagoshima - Kawakamicho - Ichiino - Sendai line. They would tie in with the Third Marine Division on the left and with Army elements on the right.
Training and Rehearsal
Because of casualties suffered on Iwo Jima and the large number of partially trained replacements, it was necessary for the divisions to stress individual training and then progress to small unit training. Training consisted of instruction in mines and demolitions, intelligence, communications, chemical warfare, swimming, epidemic disease control, assault platoon tactics, and weapons familiarization. As they progressed to small unit training, emphasis was placed on coordinated exercises of the infantry-tank-artillery-engineer team. Field problems consisted of flame-thrower teams and demolition men scrambling up steep slopes, rehearsing frontal attacks against mock pillboxes and bunkers. The Marines trained under live fire from artillery, mortars, and machine guns. Thirty-mile forced marches were also conducted for fitness. Due to the extensive land areas to be occupied, it would be impossible to maintain a solid front and much emphasis would be placed on strong patrols and internal security.
By mid July 1945 the battalion landing teams were conducting amphibious exercises and the divisions were conducting CPXs. Regimental and division level exercises were planned for August and September, respectively, but never executed because of the end of the war. Continuous air and ground training was conducted by air liaison parties, tactical air observers, and artillery air spotters of the divisions attached to the Corps. However, air strike groups were not available for joint training.(21)
The Naval gunfire final rehearsal was to be in the Marianas, with the Japanese held island of Rota as the impact area on 12-17 October. A rehearsal for the assault was scheduled for 16, 17 and 18 October in the Marianas, and was to include all of the direct air-support, air, and ground units. Then, on 10 August 1945, all planning and training shifted from an opposed assault to landing as an occupation force.
V Amphibious Corps had less than three months to plan and train for Olympic. With their parent headquarters located in the Philippines and their subordinate divisions scattered at Guam, Saipan, and Hawaii, coordination was difficult. This physical separation and short timeline led to difficulties in the planning phase, where decisions had to be made void of information. Critical to this planning phase was accurate and timely intelligence. What intelligence information the planners had and when they had it, is important when assessing the operational plan.
1. V Amphibious Corps, G-3 Operations Report, Occupation of Japan, 30 November 1945, 1.
2. ibid., 2.
4. ibid., 4.
5. ibid., 3.
6. ibid., 6.
8. V Amphibious Corps, Annex C to Operation Report, Occupation of Japan, 30 November 1945, 14.
9. V Amphibious Corps, G-3 Operations Report, Occupation of Japan, 30 November 1945, 6.
10. Commander Amphibious Forces Pacific Fleet (ComPhibsPac), Annex C - Intelligence Plan, No. A11-45, 10 August 1945, 2.
11. V Amphibious Corps, Appendix 3 to Annex C, Operations Plan, Occupation of Japan, 30 November 1945, 24.
12. ibid., 26.
13. ibid., 25.
14. Bill D. Ross, Iwo Jima Legacy of Valor (New York: Vanguard Press, 1985) 38. General Erskine was the youngest (46) two-star general in the Marine Corps. He had served as an enlisted company bugler in the Army along the Mexican border. He was commissioned in the Marine Corps and saw action in World War I where he was wounded twice and received eleven decorations. He received awards for valor in the battles of Chateau-Thierry, Belleau Wood, Soissons, and Saint-Mihiel. See the professional-biographical MMS paper by Major Joleen Hollingshead on General Erskine.
15. V Amphibious Corps, Air Officer's Operation Report, Occupation of Japan, 30 November 1945, 2
16. Commander Amphibious Forces Pacific Fleet (ComPhibsPac), Operations Plan No. A11-45, 10 August 1945, 12.
17. V Amphibious Corps, Naval Gunfire Operations Report, Occupation of Japan, 30 November 1945, 3.
18. Commander Amphibious Forces Pacific Fleet (ComPhibsPac), Operations Plan No. A11-45, 10 August 1945, 5.
19. V Amphibious Corps, Naval Gunfire Operations Report, Occupation of Japan, 30 November 1945, 4.
20. V Amphibious Corps, G-3 Operations Report, Occupation of Japan, 30 November 1945, 4.
21. V Amphibious Corps, Air Officer's Operation Report, Occupation of Japan, 30 November 1945, 2.