A WWII Underwater Demolition Team veteran,

Marvin Cooper,

has written a marvelous book,

"The Men From Fort Pierce".

Mr. Cooper tells the story of UDT's role in the war, weaving the chronology of events with details offered by the men who were there. Mr. Cooper has generously allowed us to reproduce excerpts from his book on this website. The following selection is Underwater Demolition Team THIRTEEN's experience at IWO JIMA.


By February 1945, most of the Philippine Islands were in American hands. Manila fell to the American troops on February 6, and the Army landed on Corregidor on February 17. The giant B-29 bombers were bombing Japanese positions from Singapore to Tokyo. The Japs were reeling but seemed oblivious of the fact.

The next target of the United States Navy and the Marine Corps was Iwo Jima - a small volcanic island about 750 miles south by southeast of Tokyo, Japan. Iwo was less than six miles long and ranged from about one to three miles wide. On the south end of the island stood a stark volcanic mountain cone named Suribachi. Suribachi mountain has been described as looking like an overturned coffee cup, nearly I,000 feet high. North of Suribachi mountain was the narrow "waist" of Iwo, a little over a mile wide. to the north the island broadened to nearly three miles in width, and consisted of mostly 300 to 500 feet high lands separated from the ocean by cliffs on the west, north and east. Iwo Jima is a geologically young island created by volcanic activity. Its natural plant covering is scrub-like trees and underbrush.

Iwo Jima would be the first homeland island of Japan to come under landing assault by American forces. Many of the other islands taken by the Americans in the Marianas and Carolinas were Japanese possessions by mandate of a 1919 League of Nations directive. Iwo Jima was claimed and occupied by the Japanese much earlier, and was considered Japanese territory in the strictest sense. Its defense would reflect the nationalistic pride of its defenders.

Iwo Jima was important to the United States high command because of its strategic location between Saipan and the cities of Japan. this was the B-29 alley for the great air attacks by the U.S. Army Air Corp. The Army demanded Iwo Jima's capture for two reasons. First to base U.S. fighter planes to protect the big bombers, and second, to provide as emergency landing site for crippled B-29's, as they returned from their bombing runs.

The research for this manuscript did not reveal what intelligence information the Navy had on Iwo Jima before the invasion. The UDT teams were briefed that is was going to be a very hazardous operation, possibly the worst of the Pacific War, but otherwise the information did little to predict what was in store for the Marine Corps.

If they knew if or not, the Marines faced about twenty-two thousand fanatical Japanese. Some of them were the legendary Imperial Marines. Over twenty thousand of those Japanese would die, and over six thousand Marine and Navy personnel would be killed in the capture of those less than six square miles of real estate.

Back in December, 1944, on the island of Maui, Hawaii, Teams Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen had finished training about Christmas time. Now Underwater Demolition Teams Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, and Fifteen were assigned to prepare the beaches of Iwo Jima. Two of the Teams were veterans of the Luzon invasion, and the other two would see their first combat as an Underwater Demolition Team.

The core personnel for Teams 11, 12, 13, and 15 all came from Training Class 7 of Fort Pierce. Team 15 left Florida in early September, but the other three teams were held back until almost October 1. Along with a shortage of volunteers for UDT, which resulted in the development of the "fleet teams", there was a shortage of "brass". It was decided that the command level for a UDT Commanding Officer should be of the Lieutenant Commander rank. So rather than assign a Lieutenant or a Lieutenant Og) to head those three teams still in Fort Pierce, the high command went to the Beach Battalions for volunteers. From the Beach Battalions, Lieutenant Commander C.R. Conger was assigned to Team 1 1, Lieutenant Commander E. Hochuli was assigned to Team 12, and Lieutenant Commander Vincent Moranz was assigned to Team 13. Those three Commanding Officers had no Basic Underwater Demolition Training. The question was, would it work.

Teams II, 12, and 13 were originally scheduled to be assigned to the Iwo Jima operation, but during their last week of training, Team 1 1 had a training accident, and because of the accident the team was held at Maui to a later date.

Both Team 12 and Team 13 had veterans of Team Able in their personnel. Team 13 had seven enlisted men, two chief petty officers, and their Executive Officer, Lieutenant Donald Walker, all from Team Able.

Team Twelve was assigned to the USS Bates and Team Thirteen was assigned to the USS Barr and on January 3, both teams moved to Pearl Harbor. The Bates and the Barr, loaded with many tons of tetrytol, hundreds of rolls of primacord, fuses, fuse igniters, 45 caliber hand guns, Thompson sub-machine guns, Navy knives, dive masks, swim fins, rubber boats, and many other items needed for demolition operations, headed for the Carolina Islands. The ships were part of the screen force for a convoy of APAS. With the Barr on the right flank, the Bates on the left, and they battleship the USS Nevada as flag, the convoy proceeded across the central Pacific.

The convoy moved close by the Japanese held island of Truk, and all hands were warned to be prepared for possible Japanese air patrols. In late January, they reached Ulithi, the large atoll anchorage, which UDT- IO and Marine assault troops had taken from Japanese forces a few months earlier. This was the staging area for the assault on Iwo Jima.

The Barr and Bates, with Teams 13 and 12 aboard, were just comfortably anchored down in the calm waters of Ulithi's inner lagoon, when whom should appear but their old buddies from Class 7, Team Fifteen. With Team Fifteen aboard the USS Bull, was Team Fourteen.

The two teams arriving from the Lingayen Gulf operation had grim news for the two fledging teams from Maui. This was the new Japanese weapon - the Kamikaze. This news was accepted as a warning. A warning used to add fire power to the APDS.

Team Thirteen on the USS Barr and with the aid of the Barr crewman ringed the fantail with 50 caliber machine guns. These guns would probably have little effect against suicide planes, but at least they would add to the curtain of fire. The team had a man from Team Able, and a former Seabee, named Raymond LeBlanc who was a welder, and he was responsible for much of the welding necessary on the gun mounts. Unfortunately, after the gun mounts were in place, Ray was welding over the side in another project when a wave from a passing boat struck his electric welding equipment. Ray went into the water and drifted under the ship before his teammates could rescue him from the opposite side of the ship. He either died by electrocution or by drowning.

For a few days, the men from the four teams kept in condition by swimming, taking rubber boats into one of the small islands, and searching for sea shells along the shallow coral beach approaches. Many of them examined a Japanese two man suicide submarine lodged on the reef between two islands. The submarine appeared to have been accidentally grounded on the reef sometime in the past.

Before the teams left Ulithi, they were briefed on the Iwo Jima operation. Most of the demolition people had never heard of Iwo Jima, but they were warned that it would not be an easy operation. Swimmers received their individual assignments including the names of their swimming buddy. The staging plan included a training reconnaissance mission outside of the lagoon. The swimmers were dropped at high speeds, swam into the beach, but stayed outside of the surf line. The surf was high, and the breakers were estimated at about 12 feet. The water was warm, the swim was pleasant, and the training mission was completed with no problems.

On February 10, the bombardment force for the Iwo Jima Operation left Ulithi. Under the command of Rear Admiral "Spike" Blandy, the fleet included a flotilla of minesweepers, six Underwater Demolition Team APDs in the UDT command, six battleships, twelve LCIG gunboats, five cruisers, sixteen destroyers, and twelve aircraft carriers. (This listing of the battle group was taken from the book, "IWO JIMA", written by Richard Newcomb.) Not only was Iwo Jima going to be hit hard, but about the same time as this departure, Task Force 58, the greatest fleet in the Pacific, left Ulithi. Their destination was to move in close to Japan and use their aerial arm from the new modem carriers to bomb the cities of Japan.

Blandy's group stopped at Guam for a last loading of supplies and then moved past Saipan heading northwest towards Iwo. On the morning of February 16, 1945, the battle group arrived off of Iwo Jima. The weather was cool, partly cloudy, and gloomy. The island looked ominous. To the south rose Suribachi a thousand feet or so, to the north was the long high land ridge with a lower elevation. Six miles long and one to three miles wide, Iwo even before the start of the battle looked devastated. It had been bombed daily for sixty consecutive days by U.S. Army Air Corps bombers stationed at Saipan, and yet on that very day 22,000 Japanese troops were living in the caves and pillboxes that ringed the island.

Underwater Demolition Team Thirteen drew the first assignment. On the north end of Iwo, a cluster of rocks protruded from the water a few hundred yards from the mainland. Strangely enough, they even had a name, and were called Higashi Iwo. Team Thirteen's assignment was to put a navigational light emplacement in the rocks to warn the ships of the invasion fleet of the rocks' presence in the darkness of night. On the afternoon of February 16, the team sent an LCPR carrying a rubber boat with a crew to mount the light.

The Japanese did not quite approve, and mortar fire started falling in the area of the LCPR and the dispatched rubber boat. The Japanese also opened up with shell fire of 5 inch or above on the Barr. The Barr moved rapidly towards the island its 5-inch gun blazing at the spotted locations of enemy fire. Behind the Barr, the USS Pensacola plastered the north end of the island with its full battery of 8-inch guns.

The rubber boat crew bravely moved into the waves crashing about the rock, while heavy caliber machine-gun fire struck around them. The crew installed the light and successfully returned to the LCPR, and on back to the Barr. The only casualty was Ensign Charles Hamman, who received a leg cut on the sharp edges of the rocks.

The following morning, February 17, D-2, was designated the time for the Underwater Demolition Teams to open the beaches of Iwo. Teams 12, 14, and 15 would work with 20 swimmers during the morning hours on the east beaches, and use the same number during the afternoon on the west beaches. Team 13 would work with them on both operations, but would only send IO swimmers in on both missions. Captain Hanlon, the Underwater Demolition Operations Commanding Officer made this decision because of Team 13's light installation operation the day before.

These daylight reconnaissance missions were to be made against the strongest fortifications of the Pacific War. For this reason fire support was to be the heaviest of any UDT operation. The plan was to start the heavy shelling at the high water mark and move inward to the center of the island. The Navy gunners were cautioned against dropping shells in the water to avoid making the water so murky that the swimmers could not see the bottom. All the beaches on the east and west were on the narrow waist of Iwo Jima, and all the possible landing beaches were to be reconnoitered.

The bombardment group lined up early and commenced the softening up bombardment of the east beaches. The battleships were positioned the furthest from the beach, next were the cruisers, and then the destroyer line. Close in were the LCIG gunboats with their tremendous rocket fire.

The four teams worked side by side. Team Thirteen with its ten swimmers had the south beach, labeled Orange Zebra Beach. Team 13 swimmers were to swim under the near shadow of Suribachi which towered to the swimmers immediate left. It appeared to be the most dangerous beach of the entire east side. The only consolation was that Team 13 was to send in IO swimmers and the other teams were to use 20, but to those IO swimmers the giant "beehive" of a mountain swarming with machine-gunners and mortar launchers was little consolation.

The four UDT teams would work as one team through both the morning and afternoon missions. Their beaches side by side would cover all the suitable landing beaches on the small island.

The fire support for the Underwater Demolition Teams was awesome. Battleships, cruisers, and destroyers were positioned to rain a withering fire upon the eastern slope of the island. And in close the twelve LCIG gunboats would pour a continuous flow of rocket fire on the enemy gun positions. Through experience in previous operations the Navy had learned that to have successful daylight beach reconnaissance missions into heavily fortified beaches, this fire support was necessary.

Like a wave of landing craft, LCPRs from all four teams moved inside the line of LCIGS, and started to receive fire from the shore. With throttles wide open the LCPRs turned and moved parallel to the beach dropping swimmers one by one. Mortar fire and machine-gun fire rained down and around most of the reconnaissance craft until they moved out beyond the line of LCIGS. So far no boats were hit and there were no casualties.

Things were different on the LCIG line. The Japanese poured everything they had from 8 inchers on down at the twelve LCIG gunboats. Eleven of the twelve were hit and disabled by gunfire, one was sunk, and many crewman were killed and wounded. Some of the casualties were UDT people who were acting as spotters on the ships. In less than a half an hour, the flotilla of gunboats were too badly mauled to continue their support. This was the worst disaster for their group during the Pacific War.

The following is a direct quote from the book "IWO JIMA" by Richard Newcomb, pertaining to the radio messages in the communication records of this chapter in Iwo Jima history. The number identifies the number of each LCIG.

"473. is sinking rapidly and will have to be towed from the beach."

"438. Bow gun is knocked out."

"457. We are taking water."

"469. We have had several hits. We are taking water."

"449. Request doctor. Have injured aboard."

"457. We are sinking."

"469. We are taking water fast."

"441. Our engines are out."

"471. We need medical assistance in a hurry. Where do we go?"

While the gunboats were being annihilated, the men from Team 12, 13, 14, and 15 swam into their assigned beaches braving mortar, machine-gun, rifle fire, and very frigid water. Their last swim had been at Ulithi in 85 degree water, but at Iwo it was reported at 59 degrees. Their combat uniform was bathing trunks, face mask, swim shoes, swim fins, webbed belt, knife, mine detonators, and a plastic plate to record information. The only protection from the cold was a layer of grease over their near naked bodies applied before they left their ships. The swimmers made their reconnaissance in less than an hour, returned to the swimmer pick up lines, and each team's LCPRs made the high speed pick up of their swimmers.

The reconnaissance swimmers wondered what happened to the LCIGS. When they were swimming to the beach they heard the tremendous salvos of rockets screaming over them as the gunboats unleashed their bombardment potential. Less than an hour later the LCIGs were gone from the scene.

The reconnaissance of the west beaches was scheduled for the afternoon of February 17. The devastated LCIGs were out of the plan. Hall Hanlon conferred with fleet commanders about a change of strategy. The show must go on, but what about the protection of the swimmers without the LCIG gunboats? As the entire bombardment force moved to the western side of Iwo Jima, decisions were made. Navy planes were to precisely lay a curtain of smoke over the beach from the high water line far into the enemy's gun emplacements. Smoke would conceal the information the swimmers would be expected to gather about the fortifications along the dune line, but by delaying the smoke until the swimmers were close inshore, the necessary information could be gained.

The change in plans resulted in a delay of time. The swimmer drop was delayed from 1430 until 1630, which meant that swimmer retrieval might be as late as 1730 (5:30 pm). In mid February this meant that swimmer pickup would be at near dusk, and this added uncertainty to the success of the operation.

The swimmers were dropped at the newly scheduled time. The wind had increased, and the cold water had waves that were showing white caps to add to the discomfort of the swimmers. All swimmers were instructed to stay outside of the surf line when they approached the beach. The beach was steep and the waves were breaking very close so the swimmers could easily measure the water depth, check for mines and obstacles, and record the possible location of gun positions.

As the swimmers returned to the swimmer retrieval line, some problems developed. The wind had increased, the sea was running high with larger waves. Some swimmers were slowed with cramps from the cold and some had strayed from the area assigned. This resulted in swimmers being retrieved by LCPRs of another team. Regardless of the confusion and the darkening hour, all swimmers were retrieved and returned to their own ships.

The intelligence information received was excellent for all beaches. A few anti-boat mines were found and destroyed, there were no obstacles found; the approaches were deep and clear, and the beaches all had steep ramps to receive landing craft. The information was accurate and complete, but there was one problem that developed that UDT could not effect or control. Each swimmer had brought back a small tobacco bag of sand, so experts could analyze for stability to landing vehicles, amptracks, and tanks. The swimmers collected their sand samples in the surf waters as instructed, but it was discovered too late that the sand in the surf constantly exposed to water was not the same consistency as the sand along the dune lines. This resulted in problems later when heavy equipment was moved from the water line to higher ground.

According to the research materials for this manuscript, only one swimmer was lost and two or three UDT men died on the ill-fated LCIGS. The bombardment force at Iwo Jima had performed flawlessly, protecting the swimmers in a daylight operation against one of the most fortified strongholds of World War 11.

The Bull, the Blessman, the Bates, and the Barr with their UDT crews feeling of a job well done, moved into screen duty far out from the island as the night closed on Iwo Jima.

On the morning of February 18, Team Thirteen received word that their first accomplishment had been undone. The Japanese had managed to destroy their navigational light off the north shore of Iwo Jima. The second installation went well. For three days the Navy had been working around Iwo, and still had not attempted to land assault troops on the island. It even appeared that the Japanese were confused. Radio Tokyo had reported that their defenses had repulsed two invasion attempts during the day of the 17th. That, of course, was the two UDT reconnaissance missions. Anyway, when Team Thirteen installed the light for the second time, the Japanese fire was minimal.

With no beach demolition work required, the UDT teams had no assignment except Team Thirteen's second mission on the north shore to replace the light. The following morning would be D-Day and the destroyers and APDs with falling darkness moved into their screening position several miles out to sea from the island.

The Blessman with Team Fifteen aboard was cruising their screen position when at about 2120 (9:20 pm) two low flying Japanese bombers flying under the radar spotted the ship. Dropping bombs, the planes landed one on the Blessman amidship. The main force of the exploding bomb struck the starboard mess hall. The mess hall was always used during the evening hours for cards and other games. When the bomb hit, many men were engaged in that activity, and many were killed and others wounded. The bomb set off many fires, and the ship was burning. Fire spread through the troop areas and into the galley. The pumps were inoperative because of the bomb damage, and the Blessman crew using fire extinguishers could not control the blaze. The Blessman was loaded with tetrytol safely stored in the fantail hold. If the flames reached the explosives, and the tetrytol blew, there would be a hole in the ocean where the Blessman floated.

The USS Gilmer, the UDT command ship, with Captain Hanlon and Commander Draper Kauffman aboard, was in the area of the Blessman, and when alerted of the bombing, the Gilmer moved quickly to assist the Blessman. Commander Kauffman had the Gilmer drop its LCPRs, and then he led a boarding party to survey the damage. The fire had spread back through the troop quarters and was near the fantail. The fantail's steel deck was becoming hot and beneath it lay the tetrytol. Team Fifteen survivors were pulling water from the ocean with buckets, attempting to fight the fire.

It was decided to bring the Gilmer along side of the Blessman, so the Gilmer's pumps could be used to fight the fire. It was a gamble because if the tetrytol exploded, both ships would be gone. After the Gilmer started using its pumps, it still took nearly two hours to extinguish the fires. But it was accomplished and the tetrytol remained cool.

The wounded were transferred to the Gilmer. The survivors and the dead remained on the crippled Blessman. The following morning the surviving Team Fifteen members were transferred to the USS Newberry, a transport. That same morning there was a burial service for the dead, and they were buried at sea.

Team Fifteen buried eighteen teammates that morning, and twenty-three were badly wounded. The crew of the Blessman had similar casualties.

Team Fifteen survivors went back to Maui where they joined Team Nine working with the training staff. In May, Teams Nine and Fifteen were relieved by Team Thirteen, and both teams reported to the States for leave, and then reported to Fort Pierce for reorganization.

The following morning was D-Day. When the men of Teams 12, 13, and 14 awoke that morning, they learned of the deadly toll suffered by their sister team. Many had seen the glow of the burning Blessman over the horizon, but the death count was not known until morning. When the demolition men walked out on the decks of their APDs, they were amazed. As far as they could see, there were ships. The transports carrying the Fourth and Fifth Marine Divisions, Seabee Battalions, Beach Battalions, and others had arrived during the night. It is a sure thing, that the Japanese, when they awoke that morning, would now know for sure what was coming their way.

Men in the three surviving Underwater Demolition Teams had one more responsibility, and that was to lead the first wave of assault landing craft into the beaches. Each team would lead the wave into the beaches that they had reconnoitered. Research for this manuscript did not reveal who led the landing craft into Team Fifteen's beach. It could have been some of the team's survivors, but probably it was volunteers from the other teams.

At first it looked like the UDT work was over. The first few waves of assault boats went to the beach with only a minimum amount of resistance by the enemy. But this was Kuribaysashi's plan. Kuribaysashi was the Japanese commanding officer to the Iwo Jima forces. He wanted the Marines to get ashore and move up the slope towards the airstrip. There he would have them in a crossfire both from Suribachi and the north ridge. The battle that first day worked pretty well as Kuribayashi planned. Both the Fifth and Fourth Marine Division suffered heavy casualties on that east slope, and it has been described as carnage.

After the U.S. forces got several thousand Marines ashore, the Japanese then started concentrating heavy gun and mortar fire on to the beaches and beach approaches. By the second day the Beach Master, Captain "Squeaky" Anderson, a veteran of the Saipan invasion, saw he was in trouble. He needed the Underwater Demolition Teams to clear the beaches. Beaches that were clear of obstacles two days before, were now nearly blocked by crippled landing crafts, tanks, amptracks, and other equipment.

Captain Anderson contacted Captain Hall "Bull" Hanlon, the UDT commander. When Hanlon relayed the request to each team's commanding officer, Hochuli of Team Twelve volunteered his team. Team Thirteen's Vincent Moranz was reluctant, and radioed back that his men Team Thirteen were not salvage people. It is said that Bull Hanlon roared back that he wanted nothing salvaged, but he did want that beach cleared.

All three of the surviving teams worked through the days of February 20 through the 25th to clear the beaches of the glut of wreckages. Team Twelve seemed to take the lead, probably because of the extrovert attitude of Hochuli. Team Twelve was the first on the beach with an LCPR loaded with tetrytol. The team loaded a wreck on the beach with tetrytol and then blew it into small pieces. Shrapnel from the exploding wreck rained down on Anderson's Beach Battalion workers. Squeaky said to Hochuli, "Which side are you on?"

Unable to blast the wreckage without endangering the Beach Battalion personnel, the teams used LCIs and mine layers to tow them to sea. The UDT men would swim in the surf and connect cables to the wrecked boats, and the LCIs would pull them into deep water. If they sank, fine; if not, the UDT men would plant charges in their bottoms and sink them. The three teams worked for six days and cleared over 200 wrecks from the beaches. This was done under fire, and many of the wrecks accumulated during those six days. After Suribachi fell under the attack of the Fifth Marine Division, and the east coast of Iwo was cleared northward by Fourth Marine Division, the landing beaches were finally out of range of the Japanese mortar launchers.

Team Twelve action must have been outstanding, because the team was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its service during the operation. Teams Thirteen and Fourteen received nothing. Team Thirteen and possibly the other two teams transported several tons of their tetrytol to the beach. The explosives were used to replace depleting supplies of Marine explosives stocks. The Marines used the tetrytol to drop into the caves which the Japanese were using.

A Team Thirteen crew with two Fifth Marine sergeants, on February 23, made a reconnaissance mission into the south face of Suribachi. The crew went in with rubber boats to determine the possibility of a Marine assault on Suribachi from the sea. The Marine sergeants negated the plan when they examined the steep face of Suribachi from the south.

Two days later, the Marines took Suribachi, and many of the Underwater Demolition men saw the flag flying on its summit. To the Demolition men, this was a satisfying sight. After all, the UDT was the first targets of those gunners hiding in the caves of Suribachi.

There was one other assignment for UDT at Iwo Jima. It was an assignment for volunteers only. The Marine Corps and Navy both had lost many men in the close-in waters. These were the non-survivors of the wrecked landing craft. After about 4 days, the bodies would surface and float in the ocean in front of the beach approaches. UDT people were asked to man their rubber boats, and were supplied with short pieces of railroad iron and non-corrosive wire. The men were told to take the identification tags, "dog tags", off the deceased men, tie the iron to the bodies, and sink the bodies. The research for this manuscript did not give any facts about the number of volunteers or the number of burials involved.

Underwater Demolition Teams Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen left the Iwo Jima area on February 28, 1945, their assignments accomplished with a job well done. Many of the men in Teams 12 and 13 were thinking of their buddies of Team Fifteen who paid the ultimate price for victory.

There were 21 Underwater Demolition men killed, 26 wounded, and 1 missing at Iwo Jima. The missing man was from Team 12 and he later was declared killed in action. His body was never found.

When they left Iwo Jima, the three teams were headed for Ulithi, but on the way there was a rest and recreation event at Guam.

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