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Landing Craft Tank
Gerald Baxter Officer-In-Charge LCT-1031 at Iwo Jima
"The fightingest ship in the Navy" Life Magazine called it as they apologized for an article in their 11 February 1946 issue headlined "Japanese Come Home From Lost Empire" showing an LCT transporting Japanese prisoners from a troopship for repatriation to Japan. Their caption read "Barge crammed with returning Japanese comes into Uragashira in Kyushu." That brought an avalanche of letters informing Life that their picture shows not a barge but rather a commissioned ship in the United States Navy, USS LCT 678, with a crew of two officers and twelve men – that LCTs made troop and equipment landings in all theaters of WWII – Normandy, Salerno, South Pacific, Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa etc. - under the most adverse of combat conditions and weather - and they also made a good accounting of themselves with their antiaircraft firepower.
This is the history of one such "fightingest ship", USS LCT 1031, as told by her Skipper, Lt (jg) Gerald (Jerry) Baxter with the help of logs, notes and anecdotes from other crew members.
It covers the early formation of her crew at Solomons, Maryland - how they trained first on the earlier version of the LCT called the Mark 5 and later on the newer Mark 6 (LCT 1031 was a Mark 6) – how crew and ship had further training in the Hawaiian islands – how, because new LCTs came in three separate sections; stern, mid and bow, the crew had to bolt them together as the sections floated in the harbor – how after considerably more training making practice landings LCT 1031 was loaded aboard LST 1032 (Landing Ship Tank) and headed for the Iwo Jima invasion which began 19 February 1945 – and then, how they worked night and day bringing marines, ammunition, vehicles, fuel and every other kind of necessity from larger ships anchored farther out to the beaches of Iwo Jima and wounded fighters back to hospital ships right up to the time the island was secured 16 March 1945 and for some time thereafter. Also, "The rest of LCT 1031’s story" is told – how the now very experienced crew brought the plucky little ship through a typhoon, and eventually to Saipan for repairs in preparation for the invasion of Japan and then, the war having ended, its final assignment back at Iwo Jima supplying the island until the Navy ordered her surveyed and sent to a watery grave.
LCT 1031; FORMATION OF CREW AND TRAINING EXERCISES
I was commissioned Ensign Gerald Baxter, a member of the 16th class of U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipman School at Columbia University on 24 February 1944. About two hours later I was married to Betty Bates by Navy Chaplain C. Leslie Glenn and reported for training duty at the Amphibious Base, Solomons, Maryland on 1 March 1944. We were one young green officer, a skeleton crew of green kids, with a new one or two added every few days until we finally had twelve, enough to start learning together on an old Mark 5 LCT with its superstructure across the tail end which the Navy called "aft". We learned; how to drop the anchor a couple of hundred yards from the beach so it would be able to aid us in retracting, the difficult care required in fog, to stay in the channel to avoid fisherman nets, and to follow the Rules of the Road so as to avoid collisions. Then we went to New York City on the train, as I recall there were seven officers and crews, and ferried seven new LCT Mark 6s back to Solomons. We were fogged in at Atlantic City for two days before making it back. The new Mark 6 became our training ship until we returned to Pier 45 at New York City in early June. We were then assigned to LCT 1031 which was constructed at Bison Shipbuilding Corp, North Tonawanda, N.Y. and was still in three unassembled sections aboard an LST under the command of Lt. Pollukia. We departed on 14 June 1944 for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by way of the Panama Canal Zone and San Diego, California.
Initially the ship’s complement consisted of:
Myself as Commanding Officer
Henry "Slim" Cudnik, Gunner’s Mate 3/c, from Cleveland, Ohio
Frank "The Kid" Gilmore, Seaman 1/c, from Kentucky
Maurice "Speed" Gaulin, Quartermaster 2/c, from Queens, New York
Alfred "Boats" Hall, Boatswain’s Mate 2/c, from Hartford, Conn.
Garfield Handy, Seaman 1/c, from Basset, Virginia
Glen Lunn, Electrician’s Mate 1/c, from Pennsylvania
Joe Moats, Seaman 1/c, from Circleville, Ohio
Richard Niquette, Motor Mac Striker, from Puyallup, Washington
Ralph Nosbusch, Motor Machinist Mate 1/c, from Munich, ND
William Outlaw, Seaman 1/c, from North Carolina
Austin Schoue, Seaman 1/c, came aboard in San Diego, California
Art "Pappy" Schultz, Cook 3/c, from Covington, Kentucky
Robert Sinclair, Seaman 1/c, from San Antonio, Texas
Wally Titus, Seaman 1/c, later, Cook 3/c, from Enderlin, North Dakota
Arthur "Stoney" Woodyard, Seaman 1/c from Washington D.C. He also
came aboard in San Diego, California.
I did not have an executive officer until we reached Pearl Harbor. This position was filled by Ensign Richard Noonan. He had just been newly commissioned at Notre Dame USNRMS.
Being a small ship with such a small crew its "Department Heads" of necessity had to be the very men doing - and in charge of - the hands-on work. In this regard our "Engineering Officers" were Motor Machinist Mate Ralph Nosbusch and Electricians Mate Glen Lunn. "Officer of the Deck" was Boatswains Mate Al Hall, and "Communications Officer" was Quartermaster Maurice Gaulin. In my view, these were four of the top, the very cream of the crop, of the enlisted men who participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima, and possibly in the entire Navy. They were extremely instrumental in the overall operation, efficiency, discipline, and every day assistance – more than I could ever describe. Our Group Commander and his staff (see Appendix) never ceased to compliment their work any time they came aboard and tell me how fortunate I was to have that many individuals so knowledgeable, caring, and dedicated. My two successor skippers wholeheartedly concurred with these evaluations.
When we arrived at the Hawaiian Islands I put our Boatswain’s Mate, Al Hall, in charge of bolting together the three floating sections of our LCT. This was a good choice because Al had had a number of months of construction experience with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the wilderness areas of Idaho.
LCT 1031 was assigned to Group 48 of Flotilla 16. Commander of Flotilla 16 was Lt.Cdr. Lewis. Commander of Group 48 was Lt. Robert T. Capeless, a veteran of the South Pacific campaigns. LCT Group 48 arrived at Pearl Harbor 24 July 1944 and then had ten weeks of orientation, training and beaching exercises on and around the islands of Maui and Kauai. Upon returning to Pearl Harbor the LCTs were loaded aboard LSTs between 23 October and 16 November. The process of lifting LCT 1031 out of the calm protected water of the loading area and carefully placing it on the pre-prepared area near amidships on the top deck of LST 1032 was a sight to behold. Next came the securing of the LCT on the carefully designed base of creosoted timbers with the appearance of "railroad crossties" in a seaworthy tested system. This gave it the necessary flexibility required to successfully launch the LCT simply by removing all restraints and listing the LST by shifting ballast enough so the LCT would slide slowly into the surrounding water.
IWO JIMA INVASION
The campaign to wrest Iwo Jima from the Japanese was code-named "Operation Detachment". LCT Group 48 of Flotilla 16 became part of Task Force 53 for this assault. Capeless was named our Commander under Rear Admiral Harry Hill Commander of Task Force 53.
After more training exercises we, LCT 1031 riding piggyback on LST 1032, in convoy with many other ships, finally set out from Hawaii on 22 January 1945 for Eniwetok, Saipan and ultimately for the invasion of Iwo Jima. At this point we are grateful for the personal daily log kept by my boatswains mate, Al Hall. It serves well to refresh memories.
Our mother ship, LST 1032, whose captain was Lieutenant Joe Medina, had on board twenty-one Army amphibious trucks known as DUKW’s and their three man crews. Also, on board the LST (besides us) were two hundred marines and their vehicles. Our LCT had on its tank deck a large stockpile of 105 mm phosphorous shells reaching almost from bow to stern. The 63 black Army DUKW drivers, whose leader was Sergeant Fletcher, slept on cots aft of these shells. Their two white officers occupied living quarters on the LST. My crew was once again integrated and assigned work by the Bos’n of the LST and I resumed my midnight to 4:00 am J.O.O.D. (Junior Officer Of the Deck) watch in the conning tower with Lt.(jg) Weller. Our crewmembers ate their meals in the LST mess.
We arrived safely at Eniwetok on 3 February. The stay was very brief. After taking on water and fuel we departed two days later for Saipan. Some "higher up" in his wisdom decided the two foot high LCT 1031 numbers each side of the bow were not large enough for identification at long distances so Al Hall and his seamen set to work repainting them five feet high. On 10 February the island of Saipan came into view. There we loaded additional cases of ammunition and the LST took on one hundred and fifty six more marines. Only five days later, on 15 February, we hoisted anchor and joined the invasion task force headed for Iwo Jima. On 18 February, D-Day minus one, all preparations were made to prepare LCT 1031 for launching off of the deck of LST 1032. Engines were started, generators were run to fully charge up the batteries, fuel tanks were topped off and lashings and other tie-downs were singled up.
According to Major Spritzen, the marine officer in charge of a platoon of 4th Division Marines aboard LST 1032, whom I got to know quite well during the trip, in a briefing session with all the Navy officers aboard, confidently stated that the high command was anticipating little resistance garnered from the indisputable evidence of the total devastation of the island from the countless bombings of the previous weeks. It was their belief that there would be only token resistance and it would require possibly only a week to complete and unload the necessities for constructing the top priority airstrip. He said the balance of the invasion forces would proceed to Chichi Jima and each of the remaining Bonin Islands in an all-encompassing takeover. History confirms, in contrast to this rosy supposition, the devastating slaughter that actually occurred during the next five weeks. In fact, Major Spritzen was killed very early in the operation. The other Bonin islands were bypassed.
As we approached Iwo Jima, 19 February, we could first hear and then see the massive bombardment by naval guns and bombers that was going on continuously and, we understand, had been going on for many weeks prior to our arrival. The next morning, 20 February, a Japanese shell hit LST 1032 and killed one man and injured seven others.
The LSTs carrying troops, LCVPs, LCMs and DUKW’s involved in the first waves were loosely scattered a couple of miles north of the intended landing beach along the northern shore of Iwo. All of these had to be in position and unloaded ready to go at a pretty precise time and certainly before the 1031 could be launched. Being hit by a Japanese shell did make Captain Medina anxious for a rapid retreat to a safer area for the launching. After watching wave after wave of men hit the beach, in between the strafing, and then the hit on the LST, I wouldn't have been too disappointed if the 1031 had sunk right there on the unloading spot! Some of the DUKW’s were too heavily loaded when launched into the rough sea and did sink. Most of the crewmembers were rescued but some were lost.
At 1035 hrs, with fuel tanks filled, fresh water topped off, all engines, generators, cable winch, and bow winch working perfectly, exactly as you would expect from this crew, LCT 1031 was launched successfully without incident and got underway.
We received a call from Group Commander Capeless, code named "Microbe Control", to find APA 96 and start unloading. He was caught between a rock and a hard place since only 5 of the 12 LCTs had been unloaded and he was getting call after call for more ammo, more supplies, and transportation for more casualties and no one really knew the whereabouts of specific ships carrying specific needs. We were standing by as ordered but trying to get our bearings relative to beach color code, ship locations by name or number, with no code or method of identity other than closeness to read them among the literally hundreds in the area. It was not a clear quiet night by any stretch of the imagination, but the freedom from the congestion of people on the LST from the time we left Pearl until now was actually very exhilarating and made our dilemma bearable. APA 96 had moved several miles from their given area. By the time we had located them and were standing by to come alongside our orders were changed to proceed to AKA 91 for a load of 105 ammo and rocket shells and head for green beach for our first trip. It was after 1700 hrs and getting dark when we picked up 4 guys on the way to the beach; they had lost their small boat. I was up on the conning tower trying to get a fix on green beach when Slim, wanting to lighten the tension, called up from the wheelhouse with, "Hey skipper, can you tell me a quick joke"? We hit green beach, but there was no unloading activity. There was so much wreckage in the way, they had no place to put it, but we lowered the ramp and I dubiously went ashore after about a 10 or 15-minute wait for someone to appear. We were forbidden to go ashore. We were to stay under cover inside the LCT while unloading at all times. After a guard read me the riot act about not knowing the passwords and not staying on the LCT at all times he took me to the beach master who was glad that we had the ammo. He asked me if I could retract and move farther east on green beach where they would have a place for me. I told him I’d need 15 or 20 minutes if I wasn't broached by the time I got back to the ship. I had told Slim to keep the engines revved up to at least 2/3 speed; that we had out plenty of anchor cable and a heavy load! Everything worked fine, morning came, and we retracted a little after 10:00 am with, according to Al, 9 wounded men; 2 marines, and 7 small boat survivors.
It took about 4 hours to find available places for our passengers among the rapidly filling hospital ships. This night and day routine of loading and unloading, then hauling casualties or sometimes prisoners back to specific ships, in both fair days and foul days, windy days and calm days, is all covered so well by Al's log that after a lengthy study I was able to pinpoint a number of key events; the three days I spent in sick bay, when we moved the unloading operation to the southeast side of Mt. Suribachi, the approximate date of the typhoon, the typhoon damage, and our trip to Saipan for major repairs.
For the next four weeks we, along with the other LCT’s (see listing in Appendix), worked around the clock going out to cargo ships to be loaded with troops and their supplies and then brought them to various beaches which were identified by colors; Green, Red 1 & 2, Yellow 1 & 2, Blue 1 & 2 etc. We continued to transport wounded fighters out to hospital ships. Early on in the fighting the beaches became even more cluttered with disabled small boats and half-sunk vehicles making our landings extremely difficult. Twice our LCT broached parallel to the beach but each time we were able to square it away without severe damage. Often our screws would foul with heavy ropes. One time, while alongside a cargo ship, Robert Sinclair and I were able to dive under the stern to cut away lines that fouled the center screw. There was a small air space which allowed us to breathe while hacking away with sharp knives. On another occasion divers from repair ship ARL 3 tried but were unable to free up the port screw. Still later, while in dry dock LSD 1, to have underwater holes patched and sand removed from the bow bilges, the repair crews were able to cut away ropes wound around the propeller shafts. We took advantage of this time in dry dock to rest up – a most welcome opportunity since we were near the point of complete exhaustion.
As has been well documented in other histories of the Iwo Jima campaign, the Japanese were not greatly affected by the preliminary shelling and bombardment and were safely dug in with a maze of tunnels connecting their fortifications. Their big guns and mortars could pin point with murderous crossfire any spot on the landing beaches. On D-Day plus five, 24 February, we had just landed on Red Beach 1 with a load of ammunition, medical supplies and field rations when the Japanese unleashed a heavy mortar barrage. All unloading stopped until it was silenced. Japanese planes harassed the landings also. Our gunners mate, Henry (Slim) Cudnik, kept our two 20 mm anti aircraft guns firing at them.
Like earlier campaigns the versatility of the LCTs was again proven. Besides their regular assignments of hauling tons of equipment and hundreds of men to shore they were also found useful to rescue men from floundering small boats, to provide transportation of high ranking officers from ship to shore and shore to ship. They helped other ships with repairs. For example, each LCT carried a spare stern anchor and extra anchor cable. We were ordered to give our spare anchor and cable to LSM 260 (Landing Ship Medium). They had lost theirs during a landing. It was a common occurrence for an overanxious skipper to "drop the hook" too soon as he approached the beach. He would then run out of cable before hitting the beach and thus tear it right off the anchor drum. Dropping it too late was bad also because when he tried to retract off the beach he would simply pull in his anchor and there he would sit!
Our LCT 1031 "worked", as the Navy expression goes, many cargo ships, troop transports and other landing craft. Men who served on them at Iwo Jima might like to read of our contacts with their ships. The following is a brief listing:
20 February D+1 Ordered to APA 96 USS Cecil but we could not find her.
21 February D+2 Ordered to AKA 91 USS Whitley to take on a load of 105 mm ammo for Green Beach.
22 February D+3 Ordered to AKA 196 We brought to them nine wounded men.
23 February D+4 Ordered to AKA 91 USS Whitley to load medical supplies, rations and machine gun ammunition for Red Beach. Severely hampered by Japanese mortar barrage right after midnight.
24 February D+5 Ordered to AKA 91 USS Whitley to load seven vehicles and rations for Red Beach. When unloaded we tied up to KA 68.
25 February D+6 Pulled away from KA 68 with full load of ammo, rations and work party for Red Beach. Went to ARL 3 to have port screw unfouled but had no success. Then we were ordered to PA 56 to take on 150 troops and their vehicles for Yellow Beach.
26 February D+7 Pulled away from PA 56 with more troops, rations and ammo for Yellow Beach. Unloaded and then tied up to KA 64.
27 February D+8 Pulled away from KA 64 with a full load of food and provisions for Red Beach 1 and also brought some Army officers ashore. Took working party back to KA 64.
28 February D+9 Pulled away from KA 64 and brought more supplies to Green Beach.
1 March D+10 Ordered to KA 93 to take on a load of aviation gas for Green Beach. Tied up to KA 44.
2 March D+11 Ordered to LSM 260 to give them our spare anchor and cable. Then we were ordered to PA11 to take on a load of rations, ammo and fuel for Red Beach 2. Had to retract and take the load to Purple Beach only to retract again without unloading.
3 March D+12 Finally unloaded at Purple Beach but center screw became fouled.
4 March D+13 Ordered to KA 67 to take on full load of diesel fuel and lumber. Sinclair and I dived under the stern and swam to the small air space above the center screw and were able to cut away the lines wrapped around it. Took part of the load to Purple Beach.
5 March D+14 Ordered to floating dry dock, LSD 1, for repairs. Holes were patched and sand removed from ruptured tanks.
6 March D+15 After they unfouled our propellers we pulled away from LSD 1 and took our remaining load to Purple Beach.
7 March D+16 Ordered to GC 10 for topside repairs.
8 March D+16 Still alongside GC 10 as repairs continued.
9 March D+17 Tied up to LCT 1028.
10 March D+18 Ordered to the USS Delhi to take on a load of vehicles for Black Beach. Towed a disabled Patrol Craft to safety. Tied up to ARL 3 USS Agenor for repairs to anchor engine. Tied up to LCT 1154 until our anchor engine was usable again. Then went to Blue Beach and took on board 116 Army troops.
11 March D+20 Ordered to the China Victory. Army troops went aboard. Then tied up to the Delhi.
12 March D+21 Pulled away from the Delhi with a full load of gas drums and hospital gear for Blue Beach. Tied up to LST 731 to refuel. Then went alongside China Victory.
13 March D+22 Pulled away from China Victory with a load of radar trucks and their crews for Blue Beach. Then tied up to Britain Victory to be loaded with heavy crates containing various military supplies for Blue Beach.
16 March D+25 Iwo Jima was officially declared secured but fighting still went on. A few surviving Japanese made a final and futile banzai charge on 26 March.
Our LCT (6) Group 48 received a commendation from Rear Admiral Harry Hill, Commander of Task Force 53. For a listing of the LCTs and their skippers that participated in the Iwo Jima campaign see Appendix. I can confirm that these men who were formerly teachers, coaches, salesmen etc. did an outstanding job of commanding their ships and they and their crews most certainly deserved the commendation.
About this time a damaging typhoon hit Iwo. A week or 10 days after the island was secured, last of March or early April, our unloading beaches were changed from the northwest side of Iwo, around Mt. Suribachi to the southeast side. There we welcomed a well-prepared, calm, sandy beach free of wrecked small boats, LCVP's, LCM's, bow ramps, non-descript junk of all sizes that previously littered the area. Although we still had volcanic ash to unload on no longer were we bothered with trying to keep from broaching due to the constant quartering wind from the northwest. That condition sometimes necessitated engine speeds of 1/3, 2/3, or full speed ahead and paying out limited anchor cable to allow forward movement as the load lightened. The effort was further hampered by experiencing a fouled screw, which was a common occurrence, or having another ship run over or come too close to our anchor or cable. This move to better landing conditions gave us the opportunity to get some rest and recuperation.
We were on the beach unloading a full load of lumber when we received a typhoon alert. The workers speeded their efforts but then we received orders to retract immediately. We were about half unloaded and definitely listing to port, making steering difficult in the rapidly increasing wind. I was really concerned about getting through any of the six openings in the anti-sub net. This was normally a piece of cake when beaching or retracting, but now everyone was in a frantic hurry to get off for fear of broaching and being left high and dry, which in retrospect would have been the smart thing to do! I have never seen four o'clock in the afternoon get so dark and so ominous in such a short amount of time. We tried to head north directly into the enormous waves. The last radio message that I received was from Ensign Fletcher on LCT 631 soon after exiting the net, who said, "Hey Muldoonie, is it rough over where you are?" Some of the crew worked like crazy to get a semblance of close to a level load for easier riding of the waves and others were building a raft as an alternate contingency. I was sitting on the deck of the conning tower with my legs wrapped around the pelorus stand trying to keep the ship perpendicular to the waves. Many times we would seemingly be at a 60-degree angle and still spooning water over the bow 100 feet away from where I was sitting. The possibility of drifting miles and miles was still a thought after finally concluding that the damn thing simply was not going to sink, regardless of how many leaking void tanks it had. Having no idea where we were in relation to Iwo I decided to drop the anchor to see if it could catch anything. We decided that it was holding and with no one resting, but everybody on the alert, I went to my quarters to rest a few minutes, warm up a bit, and to change to some dry clothes when Handy came in and said, "Skipper, Slim says he thinks we're dragging anchor, we just passed the ARL!" I gave the order for Stony and Moats to start the anchor engine and reel in the cable as fast as they could. With about 2/3 of the anchor cable on the drum a powerful force literally killed the anchor engine, the brake didn't hold, and we again were paying out cable. Through the total darkness, blinding rain, and vicious wind a few bolts of lighting lit up the fact that our starboard side was being crushed against the amidships section of an enormous ship at least 6 or 7 times our length. It was evidently partially unloaded because with each roll toward us the lightning would show us first its large open holds, then as it rolled over pushing us away, we could almost see its keel! Each time it would roll toward us it would pull us so close it was pulverizing our starboard side. Why couldn't we get away? It had to be that the disabling of our anchor engine was caused by having the flukes of our anchor intertwined with the huge chain links connected to their anchor. We were completely limited to our own resourcefulness since they or no one aboard this huge ship was aware that anything was amiss or that we were even there. Because our anchor cable was partially wound up on the drum when the engine was disabled there were no mere bolts to unscrew to release the cable. We were going to have to cut it. We had about 3 to 5 minutes between one deafening crunch, the roll away and then back with another metal buckling crunch on our starboard side. Moats, Stony, and Ralph were taking turns with hammer and cold chisel to cut the heavy cable but the combination of intermittent darkness, lightning and blinding rain was taking its toll on their glove-covered fingers and thumbs. After a few more devastating rolls the mission was accomplished and we were set free – but without an anchor. The very next gigantic wave separated us. A following flash of lightning enabled me to read the ship’s name, the Kodiak Victory. By this time it was about 2200 hrs and, needless to say, no one was asleep, had been asleep, or was even sleepy. We had evidently suffered more damage below the waterline on the starboard side and to the prop on that side but we were at least stable enough to ride the waves safely though totally at their discretion.
A gradual lessening of storm intensity was noticeable by daylight and we found ourselves 20 to 30 miles southeast of Iwo Jima and as we slowly rode the long swells with our starboard-listing two-prop LCT we could see an increasing number of big ships, little ships, LST's, LCI's, patrol boats, in various stages of disaster. Several vessels of random sizes, including two LST's were as far as a quarter mile, high and dry, forward of our badly damaged new beach and only a stone’s throw from the beginning of the airstrip! It was this damage that was responsible for our return to Saipan with LCT 1028 for major repairs. It was a welcome trip for the skippers and the crews of both LCT's.
AFTER ACTION AND CHANGE OF COMMAND
The surviving LCT’s, battered as they were, continued bringing, work parties and supplies to the beaches and transporting men and equipment back to the hospital ships, troop transports and cargo ships. The Construction Battalions, (CBs), were working around the clock making the island airstrips useable for B29 bombers and their escort fighters. They needed bulldozers, fuel, motor graders, explosives, asphalt, building materials etc. Many planes, damaged by antiaircraft fire over Japanese targets, made emergency landings on Iwo’s newly repaired and expanded airstrips.
As their relief ships arrived, damaged ships made their way back to Saipan to be repaired and made ready for the invasion of Japan. Iwo’s surviving LCT’s were ordered to do this about the first part of July 1945. However, I was taken completely by surprise, along with Ensigns Lichty, Ward, Fletcher, Eiken, Dorton and Darling when we were notified that we should be prepared to receive orders, dated 10 June 1945, to PROFAGAIR (Proceed First Available Government Air) to the USA, for 30 days leave, and report to the Commandant of the 12th Naval District in San Francisco for further assignment. My replacement was Ensign Snyder Von Day from North Yarmouth, Maine, former skipper of LCT 866. I learned over fifty years later that, in a letter to his wife, Ginny, dated 8 June 1945, Day had said "Mr. Baxter is still on board awaiting his orders" and then, in describing the condition of LCT 1031, his new command, said, "The only way you can tell it is the same ship is by its number – the paint is all off and it is rusty and patched and has no sharp corners left!"
Upon detachment from LCT 1031 our Group Commander, Lt. Robert Capeless, gave me an excellent fitness report which no doubt served well to gain for me my next assignment, which, as best I could tell, was to be the skipper of a new LSM, and to take part in the invasion of Japan. At this time I was promoted to Lieutenant junior grade.
PREPARATION FOR THE INVASION OF JAPAN
Even though security on such matters was Top Secret there was little doubt that, judging by all the hurrying and scurrying of troops, ships and planes at nearly all the Pacific island bases, there was soon to be a massive invasion of Japan to bring about their "unconditional surrender". Vessels damaged at Iwo Jima limped back to Saipan under orders to proceed with repairs as quickly as possible.
Huge floating dry-docks, able to cradle many LCT’s at one time, glowed all night with welding torches. LCT 1031 needed a great deal of fixing. The center screw was missing and the port screw was badly bent. The anchor engine was almost sheared off and the anchor itself and cable were gone. The entire starboard bulkhead was misshapen in dire need of straightening.
The LCT crews helped with the repairs but they were also able to go on liberty and enjoy some much needed rest and relaxation. (There was a bit of discrimination with regard to the Saipan Naval Base recreational facilities although no one seemed to mind. They had a club for enlisted men, a club for chief petty officers, a club for junior officers and a club for senior officers.)
Many newly commissioned ensigns were ordered to Saipan to report aboard the LCT’s as "Officers-in-Training" although they preferred to think of their assignments as "Executive Officers." Some of these were; Ensign Ken Wood to LCT 1269, Ensign Warren Wolf to LCT 631 and Ensign Ferd Swenson to our LCT 1031. They and three others; Ensigns Pete Wegehaupt, Mortimer Smith and Nelson Webster arrived at Saipan aboard AKA 60 USS Leo (see Appendix) on 15 August 1945 – the day the war ended. Wild celebrations erupted. Guns and rockets were fired into the air, men jumped into the water from perches high up on their ships. The clubs did a land-office business around the clock.
PEACE TIME DUTY
Everyone was much relieved that there would be no invasion of Japan. Skipper Day, now Lt.(jg), of LCT 1031 and nine other fully repaired LCTs were ordered back to Iwo Jima to continue transporting supplies from cargo ships to the island’s beaches. LCTs were ideal for this use because there was no harbor at Iwo Jima. Attempts to build a breakwater using steel sheet piles failed. The piles, once driven in place, would continue to sink down out of sight through the coarse volcanic sand due to their own weight. A small boat "harbor" was constructed by sinking old ships in a rectangular pattern but even this finally succumbed to the incessant breakers. During storms some protection was provided by anchoring on the lee side of the island.
Crew members went home on a point system based on a number of factors among these were: major engagements participated in, time in service, and marital status. By the end of 1945 and early 1946 many of the experienced hands who had accumulated enough points received orders releasing them from active duty and headed back to the States. Some crewmen had to stay on because they had enlisted for six years and still had time to serve.
When it came time for Lt.(jg) Snyder Von Day to go home, his XO, Ensign Ferd Swenson became skipper of LCT 1031. The vacant XO position was never filled. This happened on the nine other LCTs at Iwo – their skippers went home and the XOs took their places.
Cargo handling ship to shore, adverse weather and normal wear and tear took their toll on the LCTs. A repair ship was sent to Iwo Jima for the purpose of keeping them well maintained. However, the very day it arrived it tore its bottom open on rocks hidden just beneath the water surface and had to be abandoned. The LCT’s had to get by as best they could – some only had one operable screw.
The Navy began a program of disposing of them. On 6 February 1946 orders were received detaching the crewmembers of LCT 1031 and reassigning them to replacement LCTs newly arrived from other islands, (see partial list of these in Appendix). Ensign Swenson relieved Ensign Frank Havlik, skipper of LCT 1000 – nicknamed the "One Grand Ship." A patrol craft towed LCT 1031 ten miles out from Iwo and sunk it with surface fire. Because of its many void tanks it took a long time to sink. Later, on 14 April, the remaining LCTs including LCT 1000, were towed out to sea. This time the Navy used a Privateer bomber and dropped sticks of one hundred pound bombs on each LCT which was much more effective. LCT crewmembers were invited to ride the bomber to observe the sinkings.
We received excellent support from our Group 48 Commander, Lt. Robert Capeless (code named "Microbe Control"). Two others of his staff we remember as being very helpful; Burton and McChesney.
In George C. Dyer’s book, "The Amphibians Came to Conquer", he lists twelve LCTs that served in the Iwo Jima invasion. (See his page 1004).
I have some disagreement with that list as follows:
It shows LCT 1055 aboard LST 634 at Iwo. I believe that LST may have been there long enough to unload some supplies but did not launch its LCT and that they then went on to the Okinawa landings.
There were also two LCTs in the Iwo campaign not on Dyer’s list. These were the 692 and 1393.
According to my best recollection the LCTs and their skippers that took part in the Iwo Jima invasion were:
LCT 630 Ensign Jon Hammerschmitt, LCT 631 Ensign Richard Fletcher, LCT 632 Ensign Richard Ward, LCT 692 Ensign Harold Plummer, LCT 1028 Ensign Joseph Lowery, LCT 1029 Ensign Robert Lichty*, LCT 1030 Ensign Wilbert Darling, LCT 1031 Ensign Gerald Baxter (me), LCT 1154 Ensign Eiken**, LCT 1269 Ensign Frank Eddy, LCT 1393 Ensign Ken Dorton, and LCT 1404 Ensign Ray Kimball.
Dyer’s book shows LCT 866 at Iwo Jima also. This is apparently true because we know that Ensign Snyder Von Day was its skipper and we know that he went through the invasion. He became my replacement on the 1031.
* LCT 1029 was hit, suffered a number of casualties and sank.
**LCT 1154 was also hit but was repaired.
AKA 60, (USS Leo), was bringing to Saipan from Guadalcanal not only newly commissioned Ensigns to be XO’s on LCT’s but also a full cargo of poison gas. Classified planning documents for the invasion of Japan, not released until the 1970’s, show that the US was considering initiating the use of poison gas in this campaign.
Replacement LCT’s included: LCT 681 skipper Ensign Fred Meyer, LCT 693 skipper Ensign Ward Whitehorse, LCT 817 skipper Ensign John McCloy, LCT 1000 skipper Ensign Frank Havlik, LCT 1059 skipper Ensign Harold Horst. When the skippers for LCT’s 693, 817, 1000 and 1059 went home they were relieved by Ensigns Louis (Jerry) Fitzpatrick, Kenyon Wood, Ferd Swenson and Vincent Laurita respectively. (Before coming to Iwo Jima, Fitzpatrick was on LCT 991 at Tinian. He had hauled the A-bomb from the cruiser Indianapolis to shore there unaware at the time what it was. See LCT 991 website.)
This page was created and maintained by Gary P. Priolo|