In February 1945, eight battleships, five heavy cruisers, three light cruisers and ten destroyers met near a small volcanic island just 650 miles from Tokyo. Iwo Jima was located on the bomber route between Tokyo and Saipan in the Mariana Islands. The allies needed Iwo Jima as a base for the bomber’s fighter escort planes and for refueling and repairing B-29 bombers. The 22,000 heavily fortified Japanese on Iwo Jima were willing to fight to the death from their maze of underground caves, bunkers and tunnels to stop the allies from taking Iwo Jima.
Sunrise on February 19th was greeted with the largest naval bombardment in history and the USS NORTH CAROLINA was there. The battleship pounded the island for four days then moved to her next assignment.
“Now, in the Iwo operation while we were preparing for that the old NEW YORK had a serious breakdown. [She] was deleted from the operation and arbitrarily they picked the NORTH CAROLINA to take her place, which for the first time made the NORTH CAROLINA assigned the same as the old battleships. We were, as I recall, the anchor ship of the first units and so we were really in there about 4,000 yards. We employed for the first time…all of our batteries. We saw the whole show from beginning to end.”
-Rear Admiral Tom Morton, USN (Ret.)
(Commander Morton, Gunnery Officer, during the engagement)
“One of the best sights I can remember in the Navy was when we were starting to sweep Iwo. There was the USS NORTH CAROLINA throwing big shells onto the beach. That was a protective sight. You felt you weren’t out there by yourself.”
-Roy Benton Braswell, Quartermaster 2/c
(minesweeper USS SKIRMISH clearing harbors
and landing zones before the Marine landing)
“I remember it was foggy that morning [2/19] but the most beautiful sight was seeing the USS NORTH CAROLINA battleship coming through the fog.”
-Isaiah Springs, U.S. Army
“I could see the Marines on the beach and they were catching it! There was very slow progress that first day.”
-Willie N. Jones, Gunner’s Mate 1/c
(Assigned to mount #10, secondary battery)
“I remember looking through the rangefinder and watching the Marines land. After so much ammo it was unbelievable that any Japanese was still alive.”
-Fred Welch, Fire Controlman 2/c
“I came topside and the 16-inch guns were firing the barrels almost horizontal…. We were about two miles off the island firing point blank at the Japanese with those 1,900 pound shells. Just off the port bow there were splashes in the water where the Japanese were firing at us with small caliber stuff and I thought how ridiculous it was.”
-Charles Paty, Radioman 1/c
Special Air and Gunnery Target Map
This map was used in Secondary Battery Plot during the bombardment of Iwo Jima. The map denotes location of airfields, probable tank barrier and minefield along the beach, and Japanese weapons and defensive placements on the island. Ships were assigned areas in which to operate, targets to engage, a firing schedule and the time to “lift fire” to make way for the ship to shore troop movements.
“It should be noted that to coordinate bearing observations with the people on the navigation bridge, the prominent land features were labeled on the chart with the names of loved ones selected and agreed to by the bombardment crew. It was easier to ask for a bearing to Barb or Jean or Katie than to some Japanese name.
On day three only the 5-inch guns were fired…because we had used all the 855 rounds of high capacity 16-inch shells we had on board. After day four we withdrew and replaced all that ammunition while underway by ship to ship high line transfer.”
-Capt. Tracy Wilder, USN (Ret)
(Ensign Wilder in Secondary Battery Plot
during the Iwo Jima bombardment)
Secondary Battery Plot
Lt.(jg) James Mason, far right, was officer in charge in during the bombardment. He was commended for “his leadership, coolness under fire, and personal courage [which] enabled the ship to inflict serious damage on the enemy.” Also pictured: Jasper Ortiz, William Winston, and James Allen.
The plotting room personnel along with the aviators and fire director crews carefully studied the relief map, aerial photographs and gridded maps before the bombardment.
This simplified map of Iwo Jima was distributed to the crew. A 3-D mock- up of the island was on display on the mess decks. It had “flags on it showing how much the enemy had been pushed back on the island. You could go down there every day and see what changes they had made.”
“When spotting, the pilot directed all firing orders to the ship via voice radio. Our orders went directly to CIC and Plot. I flew maybe 35-40 hours over Iwo and we were very well prepared beforehand. We had aerial pictures and an excellent chart of the island…this was extremely useful to identify assigned targets and record where shells actually hit.
We flew at or below 1000 feet. There were frantic calls for assistance to locate the actual area of the fire [on the beach.] During this time [2/21/45] I flew down to about 300 feet to try and locate the guns. [I went very low and I think I see the gun position now, Oliver reported back to the Ship.] It was later learned that the heavy fire came from mortars in caves….
When a salvo is fired we are alerted then on splash down we are told “splash,” therefore we know when a salvo is fired and when it is due to land, thus enabling us to maneuver to be in position to observe the splashdown and [radio back] corrections.
We launched at pre-dawn and finished up for recovery about dusk. This meant for a long day and since we didn’t return to the ship for refueling, we didn’t have an opportunity to change pilots.
-Commander Al Oliver, USN (Ret.)
“We had a map with the target on it and it was in quadrants and you would radio back to the Ship, up 50 or left 50 and you try to locate the gunfire onto the target just by voice communication.
-Lieutenant Paul Wogan, USN (Ret.)
“The new booklets of sectional gridded maps with equivalent photographs opposite were of great assistance to air spotters during the pre-firing preparations and later during the actual bombardment. The accuracy and value of the relief map, reported the pilots, looked like much more like the island than the actual photographs.”
Action Report, U.S.S. NORTH CAROLINA
“[On February 19, 1945] I got too close to a target and I got hit by anti-aircraft fire on the wing. I ran into a burst of flack. I was unable to observe that shot,” he radioed back to the Ship.
-Lt. Paul Wogan