Task Force 58 (and its alter-ego Task Force 38) was the “first-man-in” as the United States (the Allies) advanced methodically westward across the Pacific toward Japan. The ships would attack island groups and enemy bases in advance of amphibious landings in which Marines and infantrymen would slug it out with entrenched, well equipped and tenacious Japanese soldiers, who were ordered to fight until the last man fell – no surrender.
Iwo Jima, like all the “landings” before, proved to be a grueling battle of attrition in which only 216 of the (approximately) 22,000 Japanese defenders taken prisoner by the time the island was declared “secure” on March 26, 1945 – 35 days after the initial assault. The rest were killed. Despite the massive air and ongoing ship bombardments leading up to and during the invasion, there were almost 26,000 American casualties (6,825 dead).
The next “Home Island” target was Okinawa, which proved to be a horrifying harbinger of the planned Invasion of Japan (Operations Olympic and Coronet). There were as many as 500,000 Okinawan civilians living on the island. “Final” casualty counts estimate that as many as 42,000 civilians died, including unknown hundreds who hurled themselves en masse off cliffs rather than be captured by the barbaric Americans. About 108,000 Japanese soldiers (including about 20, 000 Okinawans “conscripted” into the Army) were killed. American assault troop casualties totaled 12,000 killed and about 38,000 wounded.
Japanese strategists had a special surprise for the Americans. They unleashed ten massive raids of kamikaze planes and fighter escorts against both the invasion fleet just offshore and the Task Force ships ranging further offshore. Between April 6 and June 22, 1945, Kikusui Raids (“Floating Chrysanthemums”) swarmed Navy ships day and night. Total numbers are unknown, but some of the raids consisted of several hundred kamikazes and equal numbers of conventional fighter planes and bombers. Hardest hit group were the “Picket Destroyers” stationed in strategic locations around Okinawa as “early warning radar posts” to protect the beachhead invasion and the carriers further offshore from enemy air attacks. The kiketsui extracted a heavy toll: more than 5,000 sailors killed, 21 ships sunk and 66 more damaged — some so heavily they were out of commission for the rest of the war.
The Boston and her crew escaped this madness. They were ordered home for retrofits and repairs in advance of the planned invasion of Japan.
As I mentioned in my last post, the tiny island of Iwo Jima was very important to both sides in the War for the Pacific. The Boston set sail for the Bonin and Volcano Islands four times between mid-June of 1944 and Feb/March of 1945.
In the lead-up to the First Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19-21, 1944), Boston’s Task Group 58.1 (Adm. Clark) was joined by TG 58.4 (Adm. Harrill) in a two-day raid against airfields on those islands – with emphasis on the planes on Iwo Jima. Despite typhoon conditions, deckloads of fighter and bombers took off from the carriers and inflicted major damage on enemy aircraft on the ground (91 planes) and in the air. The raids (June 15 and 16) severely damaged Japanese operational plans during their attacks on the American Invasion Fleet massed off the west coast of the Mariana Islands a few days later.
The actions of the Battle of the Philippine Sea found the ships of Task Force 58 searching for downed airmen in the seas north and east of the Marianas on June 22. Next day, the ships were on their way for resupply and replenishment at Eniwetok (Marshall Islands), with a scheduled raid on the Marianas on the way (a typical WWll “drive-by shooting”) On June 24, raids launched by the carriers of TG58.1 destroyed 66 more planes on the airfields of Iwo. In dogfights over Iwo and Chichi Jima, Navy pilots destroyed 59 planes in the air (and 24 more on the ground.)
The Boston’s next visit to Iwo Jima was July 4 and 5th. As the flagship of Cruiser Divison 10, CA-69 lead a task group of five cruisers and 15 destroyers in bombardments of airfields and military installations on Iwo Jima. With the combined carrier plane strikes and ship’s bombings, the day netted 116 planes on the ground, five enemy ships sunk and several heavily damaged.
After spending the entire month of July in combat (Operation Forager) off various Mariana Islands, Task Force 58 headed back for resupply to Eniwetok. On the way, Jocko Clark’s task group broke north for another two day raid on Iwo, including another cruiser bombardment lead by CruDiv10 on August 4 and 5th.
Boston’s next visit to Iwo was in mid February 1945, when the Combined Fifth Fleet (Task Force 58 and the Invasion Fleet) sailed north from Ulithi for the start of Operation Detachment — the amphibious assault of Iwo Jima.
As we remember the massive sacrifices made by American amphibious forces on the tiny island of Iwo Jima from February 19 through March 26, 1945, it is important to reflect on the strategic importance of that volcanic outcropping to both Japan’s defense of her homeland and to America’s strategy to end the war — massive amphibious attacks on the Home Islands of Japan.
The Bonin and Volcano Islands lie halfway between Honshu (Tokyo) and the Marianas. The three most important islands of those two neighboring groups were HaHa Jima, Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima — home to two enemy airfields. The Japanese defensive plans (as Americans encroached their defenses by victories in the Marshalls and Marianas) always included shuttling fighter planes from Honshu to Okinawa and Iwo Jima airstips.
Taking Iwo Jima would give America a vital airfield about 700 miles from Tokyo, and strip her of vital air-defense “reach”. After B-24 bases were established at Tinian and Saipan in the Marianas, Iwo as an American airbase would prove invaluable to the strategic Air campaign that ran concurrent with the Navy’s campaign against Tokyo.
Navy planners and commanders took Iwo Jima VERY seriously. Before it could ever be invaded, it had to be neutralized several times in the year or so prior to the February 1945 Marine invasion. No one task group nor one group commander is more synonymous with Iwo Jima than is TG58.1 and “Jocko” Clark. Under his command, the Boston participated in three major assaults against Iwo Jima — twice spearheading the close-up bombardments (as flagship of Cruiser Division10) of airstrips and facilities on Iwo and the Volcano Islands.
Jocko Clark had such a personal interest in attacking Iwo, that one of his raids (at his initiation and suggestion) came to be known as “Operation Jocko”.
I will detail the raids against IWO JIMA in my next blog.
1944: The Boston’s Task Group (58.4) spends the middle of February involved in Operation Catchpole — the capture of Eniwetok in the Western Marshall Islands. The ships supported carrier-plane strikes against Engebi and other enemy positions in the Atoll. From Feb. 17 through Feb. 21, the ships offered air support for the Marine invasion of Engebi. The Task Group left the area on the 21 and sailed east to Majuro Atoll; dropping anchor in the lagoon until March 1.
1945: The Boston is steaming north on Feb 15, part of the massive armada of ships of Operation Detachment; the infamous amphibious assault on Iwo Jima. On Feb 16, the Task Groups’ carriers unleash deckloads of planes from their position less than 100 miles from Tokyo. Their two-day mission: bomb strategic targets in and around Tokyo. On Feb. 18th, the ships refueled, and on the morning of Feb. 19, the ships began the bombardment of Iwo Jima in support of the Marine invasion. The Boston spent the next 10 days ranging between the Bonins and Japan, riding out a typhoon and supporting carrier launches as weather permitted. On Feb 28, the Boston was heading toward Okinawa.
1946: The Boston completes her Occupation Duties on Feb 28, and heads back to the States to unload her crew prior to her retirement in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (3/12/46.)