Iwo Jima, Wednesday, 7 March 1945
Regimental Combat Team (RCT) 25 found a Japanese exercise map from January, showing the Japanese had planned for exactly what had happened in the Meat Grinder. The Japanese had also predicted fighting that was yet to come: the Fifth Division’s struggle to finish the battle near Kitano Point.
Also on this day, RCT 25 became the only unit building defensive positions (barbed wire, a minefield, cannon, and mortars) while the rest of the Fourth Division drove the Japanese toward them like a hammer to an anvil.
Around this time, Hudson had the chance to shoot a Japanese portable grenade launcher—which his unit called a “knee mortar,” since it was knee-shaped. While waiting for the rest of the front line to catch up, the unit found the knee mortar and shells near a cave. The Marines placed barbed wire in front of them so nobody could crawl in and enjoyed the novelty of building a defensive position. For about two days, they stayed in the same place, waiting for everyone else to catch up. They fired the Japanese mortar into Japanese lines.
The Marines were used to being on the receiving end of knee mortars. They knew the Japanese usually fired the three rounds that came in one box as quickly as they could, and rarely fired more than three rounds at a time in the same area. So there was a strategy. “As soon as the first round hit, you took cover and stayed down until the second and third round was fired.” Though the knee mortar wasn’t a powerful mortar, it could still kill one or two men.
Excerpts are from Fighting the Unbeatable Foe: Iwo Jima and Los Alamos, now republished as a 75th anniversary edition in paperback and Kindle.