At War With the Wind

This excerpt comes from the book At War With the Wind: The Epic Struggle With Japan's World War II Suicide Bombers. The book was written by David Sears in 2008 and this selections is taken from page 55:

If a destroyer sailor worked on of his ship's main battery guns, he also understood how his crew's performance might assist, save, or even kill Marines. Harold Scott, the gunnery officer on Bennion (DD-662), had barely slept for days before the February 1945 assault on Iwo Jima because he worried over instructions received at a preinvasion briefing. He was told to keep his gunfire one hundred yards ahead of the Marine advance while Bennion cruised less than a mile offshore. At such close range and with so little tolerance for error, Scott feared his firing trajectory would be so flat as to risk mowing down the advancing Marines. In the days leading up to the assult, Scott kept his gunner's mates busy experimenting with reduced powder charges to solve the difficult equation of arc and range. Luckily, Bennion was detached from the invasion fleet's main body to escort battleship New York (BB-34), which was having propeller problems. The slow trip afforded Scott the opportunity to practice at sea using the reduced charges. En route he painstakingly measured and fine-tuned the accuracy of Bennion's 5-inch guns, using radar and optical spotting. Only just before Bennion's arrival off Iwo Jima was Scott finally satisfied his rounds would not be hitting American boys.

Sears continues with the story on page 277:

Harold Scott, destroyer Bennion's gunnery officer who, en route to Iwo Jima, had practiced feverishly with different powder charges and firing trajectories so Bennion's gunfire wouldn't hit advancing Marines, now witnessed a problem he hadn't anticipated. While Bennion's rounds landed comfortably ahead of friendly lines, they didn't seem to be achieving much. The Marines were meanwhile catching hell from concealed Japanese artillery, mortat, and machine-gun fire from inland but also, and especially, on their flanks.

The fields of fire must have been precisely registered before the landings. Amphtracs and tanks churned helplessly n the slopes of volcanic sand and became sitting ducks. Some of the mortar rounds hitting the beachers proved to be enormous "ash can" projectiles--each 320 millimeters in diameter and weighing 675 pounds. Even when pinpointed, the guns retracted into caves or behind steel doors too quickly and too securely for seaborne guns of any caliber at any range to take them out. It was a hard fight back against what you couldn't spot, or draw, a bead on.

Continuing on page 277:

As night settled, the Bennion and other ships began to fire star shells, brilliant yellow lights that burst high in the air and then floated down under small parachutes. The illumination prevented Japanese infitration. Meanwhile, 5-, 6-, and 8-inch high explosive rounds from other ships were fired to the north of the island in hopes of doing damage and warding off a counterattack.

On page 280, Sears concludes with the following:

By 25 February, Marines were making slow but certain progress toward the surviving Japanese in the north. Three Marine divisions advanced along one continuous shore-to-shore front--the 4th on the right, the 3rd in the center, and the 5th (the conquerors of Mount Suribachi) on the left flank--that expanded as the island widened. By 1 March troops controlled the northern village of Motoyama, along with its airfield.

On 9 March, destroyer Bennion with two Marine spotters aboard took up a position just off Iwo Jima's northern coast. The Marines sat atop the main battery director and pointed out some caves that needed to be taken out. Bennion steamed slow and close to shore and occasionally saw splashes of mortar fire. But using director optics, gunner officer Harols Scott was able to lock on the cave entrances and put 5-inch salvos dead on target.

The next day, Bennion was on its way to Ulithi.

To read the whole story, the book can be purchased from the publisher. The full publication details are: David Sears. At War With the Wind: The Epic Struggle With Japan's World War II Suicide Bombers (New York: Citadel Press, 2008).