The bane of O-courses for generations, the unsung cargo net was a vital step in what these days we would call the sea–to-shore connector during World War II.
With the Navy pressing whole classes of old flush-deck destroyers as well as newer destroyer escorts into use as “Green Dragons,” a modification that saw some topside weapon systems (torpedo tubes) as well as below-deck equipment (one of the boiler rooms) deleted, these tin cans could carry a reinforced company/light battalion’s worth of Marines to earshot of a far-off Japanese-held atoll where they would load up in a series of Higgins-made plywood LCVRs to head ashore.
The easiest way to get said Marines from the tin can to the waiting fiddlestick express below? A debarkation net deployed over the side.
Troops boarding the converted destroyer USS WARD (APD-16)from an LCP(R) landing craft at Maffin Bay, New Guinea, en route to the Cape Sansapor Landings, 30 July 1944. The low freeboard of the converted “four-stacker” is a boon to amphibious operations since there is less danger of the men being pitched off the cargo nets in the short descent to rocking landing boats. 80-G-255402
Nets were also a facet of transferring troops to landing craft from attack transport (APA) ships, which were fundamentally just converted freighters or passenger liners designs with davits filled with LCVPs.
Photo of landing rehearsals in June 1943 by USS McCawley (APA-4), note the nets #80-G-254933.
The tactic was iconic enough to be captured in the maritime art of the era and was used hundreds of times.
“Amphibious Troop Movement” Painting, Oil on Canvas; by James Turnbull; 1945. “Burdened with full combat packs, assault troops clamber down a landing net into the landing craft which will debark them on the shores of Lingayen Gulf to open the battle for Luzon.” NHHC Accession #: 67-190-B
As LPDs, LSDs, LPHs (which in turn were replaced by LHAs), and LHDs phased out the old Green Dragons and APAs during the Cold War, the cargo net basically was just retained for use in swim calls and in areas with poor harbor facilities.
Now, with the concept of smaller groups of Marines operating from non-standard amphibious warfare vessels in a future warm/hot war in the Pacific, it seems the staple of 1943 could be making something of a comeback.
Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, completed the debarkation net rehearsal from the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) in Apra Harbor, Naval Base Guam, harkening back to a historic method of personnel movement with a focus on safety, according to Master Sgt. Daniel Scull with Weapons Company, BLT 1/5, safety officer-in-charge for the event.
200220-N-DB724-1125 SOUTH CHINA SEA (Feb. 20, 2020) Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct cargo net training in the hangar bay of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). America, the flagship of the America Expeditionary Strike Group, 31st MEU team, is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jomark A. Almazan)
“This capability greatly enhances the 31st MEU’s ability to conduct increasingly dynamic tactical actions and operations across the Pacific,” said Scull. “Under the cover of darkness, specially-equipped Marine elements can debark onto a landing craft and insert uncontested onto small islands in the Pacific”.
While everyone remembers Iwo Jima as being a Navy-Marine Team win– the Marine’s monument at Arlington includes the iconic flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi as its centerpiece– there were also some Army troops involved in the campaign.
The 147th Infantry Regiment is an Ohio Army National Guard unit that dates back to 1861 when it formed as the 6th Ohio Infantry and went on to fight at Chickamauga. After suiting up again to fight against Spain in 1898, march into Mexico on the hunt for Pancho Villa in 1916, and slug it out with the Germans on the Western Front, the 147th was called back to federal service for a fifth time in 1941 when it formed the fourth regiment of the 37th Infantry Division. When that unit was converted from a “4-brigade “square” to a 3-brigade “triangle” the 147th was cut and would spend WWII a free agent of sorts.
After seeing the elephant alongside Marine units at Guadalcanal and being used as a garrison force on Emirau, Saipan, Tinian, and Eniwetok against isolated Japanese hold outs and raids, the 147th was tapped in to relieve exhausted Marine units on Iwo Jima some 29 days after D-Day.
The unit arrived offshore 75 years ago today on 20 March 1945, some 2,952 strong.
Make no mistake, while in many places you would think that an island would be safe a month after it was hit by three Marine divisions when the 147th arrived there was still a lot of work to do. For instance, just three days after the Army troops arrived, the Japanese launched a 300-man banzai attack into a rear-area near a hospital that had to be fought off by a combination that included Army Air Force pilots, Navy Seabees, and Marine pioneers.
OFFICER BIVOUAC AREA of the 21st Fighter Group following the Japanese attack on 24 March 1945. Note bullet-marked tents. (USAF 70576 AC)
Relieving the 3rd Marine Division in place after landing on Purple Beach, each of the regiment’s three battalions was assigned a sector to pacify and clear.
On its first day of combat, patrols from the 1st Battalion (147th) killed 23 Japanese while being guided into their new area by Marines familiar with the area. Japanese troops probed their defensive positions that evening, randomly tossing hand grenades that kept everyone awake in their foxholes.
Over the next several weeks, the Ohioans would use Marine-developed “corkscrew and blowtorch” tactics against the warren of Japanese cave positions, a method that blended grenades, submachine guns and flamethrowers with the occasional bazooka, light machine gun and satchel charge thrown in for good measure.
Soldiers from the 147th Infantry engaging heavily fortified Japanese positions on Iwo Jima with an M1918 BAR and M9 bazooka
By the end of the month, the regiment would suffer eight killed and 53 wounded, garnered while killing 387 Japanese and capturing 17 of the Emperor’s troops in the process.
In April, when a platoon of Japanese-speaking Nisei volunteers was attached to help coax out isolated and starving troops, the 147th took into custody 664 Japanese troops but still killed another 963 who couldn’t be talked into surrender.
Army troops clear cave on Iwo Jima with Thompson submachine guns. The man in the foreground is likely a Nisei terp.
Soon, the 147th would also relieve the 5th Marine Division and by 20 April was the only ground combat unit left on the island. They would continue their mopping up and garrison operations there through VJ-Day, in all accounting for nearly 2,500 (some say 6,000) Japanese troops while, says Nash, “the number who died in sealed up caves will never be known.”
In turn, the 147th would suffer 15 killed and 144 wounded in their often brutal Iwo Jima campaign. While elements of the unit would be siphoned off for assignments in Burma and on Tinian, the latter guarding the A-bomb, the Ohioans still on Iwo in September 1945 would deploy to newly-captured Okinawa for more mopping up duties there before returning home to the U.S., piecemeal, in 1946.
Captured Japanese Anti-Aircraft Gun, Iwo Jima, 1945 Mount Suribachi in the background.
The 147th Regiment (Regional Training Institute) is still a unit of the Ohio National Guard. Their motto is Cargoneek Guyoxim – Always Ready.
Amazingly, some of the last holdouts on Iwo Jima didn’t throw in the towel until 1949!
One of the most popular weapons used to root out the Japanese on Iwo Jima, 75 years ago this week, was the M2 flamethrower, and with good reason.
Defending the fortress was Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s 21,000 Japanese troops, which had largely evacuated the civilian population on Iwo and has spent months preparing the island’s difficult terrain to best resist the amphibious assault. They dug 16 miles of tunnels, broken up into 1,500 different bunkers, underneath the island. Most would never leave on their own two feet.
Flamethrowers were useful in routing the defenders from the honeycomb of underground tunnels and bunkers on the island, a tactic that evolved into what was known as the “blowtorch and corkscrew,” method.
Marine CPL Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Pacific War, carried a 70-pound M2 on Iwo Jima and used it like a surgeon to successfully take on a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, with four riflemen in support.
His hand bandaged, Lance Corporal C.D. Bradford, a New Jersey native from Longbranch, hefts an M1A1 Thompson submachine gun with its stock removed during the building-to-building battle for Hue City. He was a radio operator for Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines during the fighting. The photo was taken on 5 February 1968.
“Argentine snapshot showing an Argentine from Batallon de Infanteria Marina 5 (5 BIM) on Mount Tumbledown during the 1982 Argentine occupation of the Falkland Islands. The soldier is wearing a British Second World War style helmet (probably looted as a souvenir from the Falkland Islands Defence Force (FIDF) stores in Port Stanley) and is carrying a Ballestos Molina (sic) pistol under his left arm. This photograph was one of many confiscated from Argentine prisoners by 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines Intelligence Section.”
Argentina’s “almost 1911,” the Ballester Molina of Hispano-Argentina Fábrica de Automóviles S.A. (HAFDASA) was adopted in the 1930s by not only the Argentine Army, but the Navy, police forces, and coast guard. They were also exported to Latin American countries without their own arms making plants, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru with some 113,000 made altogether.
Ironically enough, it seems that at least 8,000 and possibly as many as 15,000 Argentine made .45s were sold to the British government for use by commando units hungry for mean looking and reliable hardware to fight the Germans in occupied Europe. These guns were meant for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), known as Churchill’s Secret Army.
And the British versions are sought after today.
British owned “B-prefix” Ballester Molina made in Argentina for the Brits in WWII. Via the National Firearms Museum