world war ii: usmc

On February 23, 1945 (72 years ago today) a 40-man patrol of U.S. Marines, not knowing if they would reach the top or not, summited the 545-foot extinct, volcano of Mount Suribachi and raised the first American flag over Japanese soil. Later, a second Marine patrol reached the top and raised a second, larger flag so the entire island could see the stars and stripes waving in the wind. Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, who witnessed the flag raising said, “The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years.”

75 years ago today - December 7 1941

Destroyers USS Downes DD-375 (left) USS Cassin DD-372 (leaning against Downes) and the Battleship USS Pennsylvania BB-38.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, USS Downes was in dry-dock with ‘Cassin’ and 'Pennsylvania’. The three came under heavy attack and an incendiary bomb landed between the two destroyers, starting raging fires fed by oil from a ruptured fuel tank. Despite heavy strafing, the crews of the two destroyers got their batteries into action, driving off further attacks by Japanese planes.
The dry-dock was flooded in an effort to quench the fires, but the burning oil rose with the water level and when the ammunition and torpedo warheads on board the destroyers began to explode, the two ships were abandoned. Later 'Cassin’ slipped from her keel blocks and rested against 'Downes’. Both ship’s hulls were damaged beyond repair but machinery and equipment were salvaged and sent to Mare Island Navy Yard where entirely new ships were built around the salvaged material and given the wrecked ship’s names and hull numbers.

USS Pennsylvania managed to escape the dubious honor of having been on Battleship Row during the attack on Pearl Harbor, but this fortunate set of circumstances also did not give her as much visibility in the public eye. For the older battleships present during the attack, 'Oklahoma’ and 'Arizona’ were destroyed and 'Nevada’ gained fame attempting to escape out of the harbor. And the newer “Big Five” battleships would be resurrected and some would be completely transformed to the point they were almost unrecognizable. But 'Pennsylvania’, stuck in drydock, became best known for being in the background. In this case, the background for the wrecks of the destroyers 'Cassin’ and 'Downes’.

'Pennsylvania’ sustained relatively minor damage during the Pearl Harbor attack, then spent much of 1942 training and conducting patrols of the United States west coast. In early 1943 she was sent to the Aleutians to help force out the Japanese forces on Attu and Kiska.

(Colourised by Royston Leonard from the UK)

“This aerial photograph made on day five of the invasion shows the immense power needed to break the back of Japanese Resistance on Iwo Jima, on March 17, 1945. Just off the beach, landing craft await their chance at the unloading area while small boats from the transports ply back and forth bring assault troops and returning wounded for treatment. Further out, the transports themselves faintly along the horizon, the protective screen of destroyers, destroyer escorts and cruisers can be seen. On the island, Marine tanks can be spotted moving through the rough terrain toward the first airfield at left.”

(AP)

“Marines clamber over the wrecked Japanese bomber on the airfield at Iwo Jima. (quoted from the original 1945 vintage photo caption).

Photographed by Don Fox. The bomber is a Japanese Navy Mitsubishi Type 1 Land Attack Plane (Betty). It is located on one of Iwo Jima’s two operational air fields. The original photograph came from Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison’s World War II history project working files.”

(NHHC: NH 104580)

“A U.S. Marine, killed by Japanese sniper fire, still holds his weapon as he lies in the black volcanic sand of Iwo Jima, on February 19, 1945, during the initial invasion on the island. In the background are the battleships of the U.S. fleet that made up the invasion task force.”

(AP)