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The Belle Grove at the Invasion of Iwo Jima
By Cliff Viereck


The following is a first hand account of the Belle Grove's participation in the Invasion of Iwo Jima during February, 1945, as remembered by Clifford E.Viereck, MM2. Cliff was aboard the Belle Grove from 15 Aug 1944 to 28 Mar 1946. He now resides in Olga, Washington, and can be reached by e-mail at cliffv@embarqmail.com  He would like to hear from any of his former shipmates.
 
July 23, 2000
I have been encouraged to relate my personal experience during the D-Day landing at Iwo Jima February 19th. 1945.

August 1943. I enlisted in the Navy at the age of 17. Following boot camp training in Farragut Idaho I was sent to engineering school at the Ford motor company in Dearborn Michigan. The school was built by Henry Ford expressly to train young Navy people to operate and maintain machinery and equipment on steam and diesel ships.

Henry Ford senior personally welcomed us to the school.

March 15th 1944. After completing school at the Ford motor company some of us were sent to the Destroyer Base in San Diego for additional training operating and repairing Hallscott gas and G.M diesel engines used in amphibious landing craft called LCVPs and LCMs. These landing craft were expressly built to carry men and equipment to the landing beaches. LCVPs were 36 feet in length and could normally carry 36 troops. LCMs were ether 50 or 60 feet long and could transport troops and small cannon or a 35-ton General Sherman tank.

I had volunteered for small boat duty but did not anticipate my next transfer to Coronado CA. for amphibious training. We spent the next six weeks landing on the beaches in very uncomfortable surf getting sea sick, bruised and wet. May 13th. to May 23rd. we were attached to the USS Hunter Ligget practicing amphibious landings from the ship with marines from Camp Pendleton.

I recall the training and landings clearly. The boats we trained in were early versions of the LCVPs with the helm perched precariously on the fantail of the boat. Boat crews for the VPs consisted of the Coxswain, two deckhands (seamen) and one engineer. The fact some of us were not Coxswains did not excuse us from operating the boat during landings. Due to large waves and rough seas it was hazardous to be perched on the stern of the craft and maintain footing to avoid breaking you arm from the wheel or being tossed in the ocean. These early designed boats were often gas powered and had a strange way of catching fire causing damage to men and boats during the landings.

May 31st 1944. We departed San Diego on the aircraft carrier Franklin for Pearl Harbor and other points in the Pacific. The Navy was noted for not knowing exactly where they should place some of its personnel. We were transported from Island to Island until we finally returned to Pearl Harbor on August 15th. 1944 and assigned to the USS Belle Grove a Landing Ship Dock, L.S.D. lovingly referred to as a "Large Setting Duck".

An L.S.D. is 490 feet long. It carries one 5-inch cannon on the foredeck and many 40-millimeter and smaller guns to make it look threatening. We never seemed to do well hitting anything. (I recall once when returning from New Guinea to the Phillipeans we sited a free floating mine. The gunners spent some time attempting to hit and remove the hazard for other ships. Finally it was decided to continue on our way and report the sighting to other ships.) The main purpose or use for LSDs was to carry amphibious craft to a landing site. The ship would ballast down filling the 390-foot well deck with water to load and unload landing craft. The B.G. had only two LCVPs (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel) assigned specifically for the ships use.

With the training I had received I would normally be assigned to an amphibious boat crew. A group of men and boats that would continue to train as a unit. Rather I was assigned to "A" division aboard the Belle Grove. "A" division is responsible for repairs and maintenance of all auxiliary equipment aboard ship as well as manning the boats assigned specifically to the ship. The B.G. had only two boats # 1 and # 2 boats that were positioned port and starboard.

The next several months we toured the pacific making the D-Day landings October 20, 1944 at Leyte and S-Day landing at Luzon (Lingayan Gulf) January 9, 1945.

IWO JIMA

Following is my personal experience as best I can recall during the invasion of Iwo Jima. My participation was insignificant and in no way suggests my participation was more than the fact I was there. The supreme sacrifices made by the 4th. 5th. and 3rd marine divisions during the 36 days of battle far out shadow all of the support groups that took part in the invasion.

We were seldom informed or knew where we were headed next. But on February 7, 1945 we arrived at Guam. We ballasted down to receive 20 LCMs Landing Craft Mechanized with their crews that were filled to the gunwales with powder and shell for the landing at Iwo Jima. The ship immediately departed Guam for Saipan a few miles away. I believe we left Guam with our load of firecrackers for safety reasons. The boat crews from the LCMs were assigned to the Belle Grove for the landing of Iwo.

February 17th we departed Saipan arriving early February 19th. D Day at Iwo Jima I can truthfully say there was no delay ballasting down and getting those ammunition loaded craft away from the B.G. The purpose of those boats full of ammunition was to replace the ammunition used by the warships to shell Iwo Jima the previous few days.

That first day the Belle Grove and the ships crew with the exception of the LCM boats and crews were mere spectators to the landings and the battle taking place on the beaches. We witnessed the continuing bombing and rockets that continually hit Mt Surabachi and other areas near the beaches. As night approached most of the ships not needed would go out to sea and return at dawn.

D-Day plus one the Belle Grove returned to the Island. The primary duty for the ship was to function as a dry dock for the damaged boats. The ship would ballast down and receive the boats that required repair. Most of the repairs were for the propellers and propeller shafts bent from the beach landings. The second day I was assigned to our ships boat # 2. (I was 19 at this time and somehow I never rose above being the junior on the team, which assured me of a position on jobs that were not desirable) Normally our ship's boats would not be involved in actual landings, but for some reason our skipper must have volunteered the two ship's boats to participate in a joint effort with other ship's boats to form a boat group that would transport marines to the landing beaches. That seemed unusual to our boat crew because it would have been beneficial to team together prior to making such a serious venture. Never the less being young and gung ho provided us with all the necessary strength to proceed as directed besides we had no choice.

Our two ships boats were directed to a troop transport that was loaded with marines. Eight other LCVPs also arrived at the ship and we all went along side the transport to load marines. The marines boarded our boats using cargo nets. When the boats were all loaded some one must have felt it would be appropriate to have an officer in charge of this rag tag unit of boats. It was our lucky day to have a young lieutenant J.G came down the cargo net to get into our boat. One of his buddies on the ship tossed him a bullhorn that became his security blanket.

I remember my concern about the training this officer had received. Did he know the fundamentals about the landing procedure? Did he know which of the several beaches to land at? and other questions that might help to prolong my life. As it turned out he had received some training in amphibious landing procedures and coupled with mine we agreed on several important life saving points.

There is a procedure that was generally accepted prior to hitting the beach. The ten boats in our group with approximately 36 marines in each boat rendezvoused and headed towards the beach. The first step prior to landing is to circle up just like the settlers used to do. The lieutenant did well to accomplish that exercise using his bullhorn and arm signals. Following that and just before heading to the beach you employ the signal to form a line of assault. Again the lieutenant did well because we formed that line and headed for our destiny on the beaches of Iwo Jima.

Each of the boat crew members has a specific job to do upon landing. The coxswains job is probably the most important. He has to keep the boat at right angles to the beach to prevent the boat from broaching ( turning sidewise and swamping or sinking right at the beach). During our landing the waves were very large and the beach angle was very steep preventing a level landing. The job of the engineer is to keep the motor running primarily by keeping the sea water from becoming restricted due to the volcanic ash on the beach. There is a dual strainer that requires constant attention. The engineer and the two deck hands must disengage the ramp and lower the ramp with a hand winch. The added problem on this beach was the steep angle that did not allow the ramp to drop freely.

Due to the clutter of sunken and damaged boats and vehicles on the beach the wave of our ten boats could not land on the same section of beach. I do not recall seeing any of our boats again with the exception of our other ships boat # 1and that was the next day.

In my opinion several things must occur in the minds of the marines that are landing and the navy boys taking them to the beach. In my mind I thought of two things I was scared to death and I thought about my mother who I knew worried about me. I distinctly recall thinking that if she only knew I was OK and standing unharmed it would be better for her. My most profound thought that I had when we actually hit the beach was for the young marines that we delivered to the beach. They were all my age and we had delivered them to a place they might never return from. This feeling I had was supported by the next event. The beach master would not let us depart the beach after we landed the marines. We had to remain in the surf and cluttered beach until we loaded as many wounded marines as we could take with us. All were on stretchers. We also took one Japanese with a head wound.

After departing the beach we attempted to deliver the wounded to any ship that would accept them. (there was a hospital ship there but I do not know why we were not able to take the wounded to that ship). We had difficulty finding a ship that would take them. Finding a ship that would take the Japanese was more difficult. We finally threatened to throw him overboard if someone did not accept him.

We did not have radios then and no specific orders as to what to do next. We delivered the lieutenant to his ship and he was happy to be shed of us. When he was ascending the gangplank we yelled to him that he had left his bullhorn behind. He yelled back telling us to keep it and he hoped never to see us again.

I am not able to recall all the events of the day but darkness was falling and we were drifting around off the Island. Our ship the Belle Grove was nowhere in sight. Most of the ships had went further out to sea leaving only the control boats and some of our landing craft drifting around. It was not our plan to remain on our small boat all night but that is what happened. I recall it was cold and not very exciting. We tried to stay a distance away from the beach but not to far out to sea. The control boats and marines continually shot star shells so we could visualize the enemy swimming out to our boats.

The Belle Grove returned the next day to pick up its chicks. We were very happy to be back aboard and spent the next month repairing damaged boats.


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