Battle of Iwo Jima

Battle of Iwo Jima

Coordinates: 24°47′N 141°19′E / 24.783°N 141.317°E / 24.783; 141.317

Battle of Iwo Jima
Part of World War II, Pacific War
37mm Gun fires against cave positions at Iwo Jima.jpg
A U.S. 37 mm (1.5 in) gun fires against Japanese cave positions in the north face of Mount Suribachi
Date 19 February – 26 March 1945
Location Iwo Jima, Japan
Result Decisive American victory
 United States  Japan
Commanders and leaders
Holland Smith
Marc Mitscher
Alexander Vandegrift
Graves Erskine
Clifton Cates
Keller Rockey
Chester Nimitz
Tadamichi Kuribayashi 
70,000 22,060[1]
Casualties and losses
6,812 killed/missing
2 captured[2]
19,217 wounded[1]
21,844 killed[1]
216 captured[1]

The Battle of Iwo Jima (19 February–26 March 1945), or Operation Detachment, was a major battle in which the United States fought for and captured the island of Iwo Jima from the Empire of Japan. The U.S. invasion, charged with the mission of capturing the three airfields on Iwo Jima,[2] resulted in some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific Campaign of World War II.

The Imperial Japanese Army positions on the island were heavily fortified, with a vast network of bunkers, hidden artillery, and 18 km (11 mi) of underground tunnels.[3][4] The Americans were covered by extensive naval and air support, capable of delivering an enormous amount of firepower onto the Japanese positions. The battle was the first American attack on the Japanese Home Islands, and the Imperial soldiers defended their positions tenaciously. Iwo Jima was also the only U.S. Marine battle where the American overall casualties exceeded the Japanese,[5] although Japanese combat deaths numbered 3 times that of Americans. Of the more than 18,000 Japanese soldiers present at the beginning of the battle, only 216 were taken prisoner.[1] The rest were killed or missing and assumed dead.[1] Despite heavy fighting and casualties on both sides, Japanese defeat was assured from the start. The Americans possessed an overwhelming superiority in arms and numbers; this, coupled with the impossibility of Japanese retreat or reinforcement, ensured that there was no plausible scenario in which the U.S. could have lost the battle.[6]

The battle was immortalized by Joe Rosenthal's photograph of the raising of the U.S. flag on top of the 166 m (545 ft) Mount Suribachi by five Marines and one Navy Corpsman. The photograph records the second flag-raising on the mountain, which took place on the fifth day of the 35-day battle. The picture became the iconic image of the battle and has been heavily reproduced.[7]



Location of Iwo Jima

After the American seizure of the Marshall Islands and devastating air attacks against Truk in the Caroline Islands in January 1944, the Japanese military leadership reappraised the military situation. All indications pointed to an American drive towards the Marianas and Carolines. To counter such a move they established an inner line of defense extending generally northward from the Carolines to the Marianas, and thence to the Ogasawara Islands. In March 1944, the 31st Army, commanded by General Hideyoshi Obata, was activated to garrison this inner line. The commander of the Chichi Jima garrison was placed nominally in command of Army and Navy units in the Ogasawara Islands.[2] Daily bomber raids from the Marianas hit the mainland as part of Operation Scavenger. Iwo Jima served as an early warning station which radioed reports of incoming bombers back to mainland Japan, allowing Japanese air defenses to be prepared for the arrival of American bombers.[2]

After the U.S. seized bases in the Marshalls in the battles of Kwajalein and Eniwetok in February 1944, Army and navy reinforcements were sent to Iwo Jima: 500 men from the naval base at Yokosuka and 500 from Chichi Jima reached Iwo Jima during March and April 1944. At the same time, with reinforcements arriving from Chichi Jima and the home islands, the Army garrison on Iwo Jima had reached a strength of over 5,000 men.[2] The loss of the Marianas during the summer of 1944 greatly increased the importance of the Ogasawaras for the Japanese, who were well aware that the loss of these islands would facilitate American air raids against the home islands, disrupting war manufacturing and severely damaging civilian morale.[2] Final Japanese plans for the defense of the Ogasawaras were overshadowed by the fact that the Imperial Japanese Navy had already lost most of its strength and could no longer prevent American landings. Moreover, aircraft losses throughout 1944 had been so heavy that, even if war production were not affected by American air attacks, combined Japanese air strength was not expected to increase to 3,000 aircraft until March or April 1945. Even then, these planes could not be used from bases in the home islands against Iwo Jima because their range was not more than 900 km (560 mi); besides, all available aircraft had to be hoarded for possible use on Taiwan and adjacent islands near land bases.[2]

In a postwar study, Japanese staff officers described the strategy applied in the defense of Iwo Jima in the following terms:

In the light of the above situation, seeing that it was impossible to conduct our air, sea, and ground operations on Iwo Jima toward ultimate victory, it was decided that in order to gain time necessary for the preparation of the Homeland defence, our forces should rely solely upon the established defensive equipment in that area, checking the enemy by delaying tactics. Even the suicidal attacks by small groups of our Army and Navy airplanes, the surprise attacks by our submarines, and the actions of parachute units, although effective, could be regarded only as a strategical ruse on our part. It was a most depressing thought that we had no available means left for the exploitation of the strategical opportunities which might from time to time occur in the course of these operations.[8]

At the end of the Battle of Leyte in the Philippines, the Allies were left with a two month lull in their operations before the planned invasion of Okinawa. Iwo Jima was strategically important: it provided an airbase for Japanese aircraft to intercept long-range B-29 Superfortress bombers and provided a haven for Japanese naval units in dire need of any support available. In addition, it was used by the Japanese to stage air attacks on the Mariana Islands from November 1944-January 1945. The capture of Iwo Jima would eliminate these problems and provide a staging area for the eventual invasion of the Japanese mainland. The distance of B-29 raids would be cut in half, and a base would be available for P-51 Mustang fighters to escort and protect the bombers.[2] Intelligence sources were confident that Iwo Jima would fall in a week. In light of the optimistic intelligence reports, the decision was made to invade Iwo Jima: the landing was designated Operation Detachment.[2] They were unaware that the Japanese were preparing a complex defensive posture, radically departing from any of their previous tactics. So successful was the Japanese preparation that it was discovered after the battle that the hundreds of tons of Allied bombs and thousands of rounds of heavy naval gunfire left the Japanese defenders almost unscathed and ready to inflict losses on the U.S. Marines unparalleled up to that point in the Pacific War.

Planning and preparation

Japanese preparations

By June 1944, Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi was assigned to command the defense of Iwo Jima. Kuribayashi knew that Japan could not win the battle, but he hoped to inflict massive casualties on the American forces, so that the United States would reconsider the planned invasion of Japan.

While drawing inspiration from the defense in the Battle of Peleliu, Kuribayashi designed a defense that broke with Japanese military doctrine. Rather than establish his defenses on the beach to oppose the landings directly, he created strong, mutually supporting defensive positions in depth using static and heavy weapons such as heavy machine guns and artillery, while Colonel Baron Takeichi Nishi's tanks were used as camouflaged artillery positions. Because the tunnel linking it to the main forces was never completed, Kuribayashi organized the southern area of the island in and around Mount Suribachi as a semi-independent sector, while the main defensive zone was built in the north. The expected American naval and air bombardment further prompted the creation of an extensive system of tunnels that connected the prepared positions, so that a pillbox that had been cleared could be reoccupied. The network of bunkers and pillboxes greatly favored the defender. Hundreds of hidden artillery and mortar positions along with land mines were placed all over the island. Among the Japanese weapons were 320 mm (12.6 in) spigot mortars and a variety of rockets. Numerous Japanese snipers and camouflaged machine gun positions were also present. Kuribayashi had specially engineered the defenses so that every part of the island was subject to Japanese fire. He also received a handful of kamikaze pilots to use against the enemy fleet (318 Americans were killed by them throughout the battle). Against his wishes, however, Tokyo forced Kuribayashi to erect beach defenses which were the only part of the island's defenses destroyed in the pre-landing bombardment.


The battleship USS New York firing her 356 mm (14.0 in) main guns on the island, February 16, 1945

Starting on 15 June 1944, the U.S. began routine strikes against Iwo Jima that would become the longest and most intense conflict in the Pacific theater.[National Park Service 1] These would be a combination of naval assaults and bombings that would go on for almost one year. Major General Harry Schmidt requested for a ten day shelling of the island before the land invasion, but was given only three, which were impaired by the weather conditions. Each heavy ship was given an area to fire on which combined with all the ships covered the entire island. A ship would fire for approximately six hours before stopping for a certain amount of time. The bombing continued until 19 February 1945 — the day of the invasion, operationally known as "D-Day". The limited bombardment had questionable success on the enemy due to the Japanese being heavily holed in and fortified. Still many bunkers and caves were destroyed during the bombing giving it a limited success. The Japanese had been preparing for the battle since March 1944, which gave them a heavy advantage.[9] By the time of the land invasion, more than 450 American ships were located off of Iwo Jima which would involve around 60,000 American Marines.[10]

Members of the 1st Battalion 23rd Marines burrow in the volcanic sand on the beach of Iwo Jima, as their comrades unload supplies and equipment from landing vessels despite the heavy rain of artillery fire from enemy positions in the background

At 08:59, one minute ahead of schedule, the first of an eventual 30,000 Marines of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine divisions, under V Amphibious Corps, landed on the beach.[11] The initial wave was not hit by Japanese fire for quite some time; it was the plan of Japanese General Kuribayashi to hold fire until the beach was full of Marines and equipment.[11] Many of the Marines who landed on the beach in the first wave speculated that perhaps the naval artillery and air bombardment of the island had killed all of the Japanese troops that were expected to be defending the island.[2] In the deathly silence, they became somewhat unnerved as Marine patrols began to advance inland in search of the Japanese positions.[2] Only after the front wave of Marines reached a line of Japanese bunkers defended by machine gunners did they take hostile fire. Many cleverly concealed Japanese bunkers and firing positions lit up and the first wave of Marines took devastating losses from machine guns.[11] Aside from the Japanese defenses situated on the beaches, the Marines faced heavy fire from Mount Suribachi at the south of the island. It was extremely difficult for the Marines to advance because of the inhospitable terrain, which consisted of volcanic ash. This ash allowed for neither a secure footing nor the construction of defensive foxholes to protect the Marines from hostile fire. However, the ash did help to absorb a portion of the fragments that were expelled by the Japanese artillery.[11] The Japanese heavy artillery in Suribachi would open their reinforced steel doors to fire and then immediately close their doors following to prevent counterfire from the American forces. This made it extremely difficult for American units to destroy a piece of Japanese artillery.[11] To make matters worse for the American troops, the bunkers were connected to the elaborate tunnel system so that bunkers that were cleared with flamethrowers and grenades were reoccupied shortly afterwards by Japanese troops moving through the tunnels. This Japanese tactic caused many casualties among the Marines, as they walked past the reoccupied bunkers without expecting to suddenly take fresh fire from them.[11] The Marines advanced slowly while taking heavy machine gun and artillery fire. Due to the arrival of armored units, and heavy naval artillery and air units maintaining a heavy base of fire on Suribachi, the Marines were eventually able to advance past the beaches.[11] 760 Marines made a near-suicidal charge across to the other side of Iwo Jima that day. They took heavy casualties, but they made a considerable advance. By the evening, the mountain had been cut off from the rest of the island, and 30,000 Marines had landed. About 40,000 more would follow.[11]

In the days after the landings, the Marines expected a banzai attack during the night. This had been the standard Japanese final defense strategy in previous battles against enemy ground forces in the Pacific (such as the Battle of Saipan), during which the majority of the Japanese attackers would be killed and the Japanese strength greatly reduced. However Kuribayashi had strictly forbidden banzai charges because he considered them futile.[11] The fighting was extremely fierce. The Americans' advance was stalled by numerous defensive positions augmented by artillery, where they were ambushed by Japanese troops who occasionally sprang out of tunnels. At night, the Japanese would leave their defenses under cover of darkness to attack American foxholes, and battleships fired star shells to deny them cover of darkness. Many Japanese soldiers who knew English would deliberately call for Navy corpsmen, and then shoot them as they approached.[11] The Marines learned that firearms were relatively ineffective against the Japanese defenders and effectively used flamethrowers and grenades to flush out Japanese troops in the tunnels. One of the technological innovations of the battle, the eight Sherman M4A3R3 medium tanks equipped with a flamethrower ("Ronson" or "Zippo" tanks), proved very effective at clearing Japanese positions. The Shermans were difficult to disable, such that defenders were often compelled to assault them in the open, where the Japanese troops would fall victim to the superior numbers of Marines.[11] Close air support (CAS) was initially provided by fighters from escort carriers off the coast. This shifted over to the 15th Fighter Group, flying P-51 Mustangs, after they arrived on the island on 6 March. Similarly, illumination rounds (flares) which were used to light up the battlefield at night were initially provided by ships, shifting over later to landing force artillery. Navajo code talkers were part of the American ground communications, along with walkie-talkies and SCR-610 backpack radio sets.[11]

After running out of water, food, and most supplies, the Japanese troops became desperate towards the end of the battle. Kuribayashi, who had argued against banzai attacks at the start of the battle, realized that Japanese defeat was imminent. Marines began to face increasing numbers of nighttime attacks; these were only repelled by a combination of machine gun defensive positions and artillery support. At times, the Marines engaged in hand-to-hand fighting to repel the Japanese attacks.[11] With the landing area secure, more troops and heavy equipment came ashore and the invasion proceeded north to capture the airfields and the remainder of the island. Most Japanese soldiers fought to the death.[11]

Raising the flag

U.S. postage stamp, 1945 issue, commemorating the Battle of Iwo Jima
U.S. flag over Mount Suribachi

"Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" is a historic photograph taken on 23 February 1945 by Joe Rosenthal. It depicts five Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman raising the flag of the United States atop Mount Suribachi.[7] The photograph was extremely popular, being reprinted in thousands of publications. Later, it became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication, and ultimately came to be regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images of the war, and possibly the most reproduced photograph of all time.[7] Of the six men depicted in the picture, three (Franklin Sousley, Harlon Block, and Michael Strank) did not survive the battle; the three survivors (John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes) became celebrities upon the publication of the photo. For a while, it was believed that the man now known to be Block was actually Hank Hansen, but Hayes set the record straight. The picture was later used by Felix de Weldon to sculpt the Marine Corps War Memorial, located adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery.[7]

By the morning of 23 February, Mount Suribachi was effectively cut off from the rest of the island — above ground. By then, the Marines knew that the Japanese defenders had an extensive network of below-ground defenses, and knew that in spite of its isolation above ground, the volcano was still connected to Japanese defenders via the tunnel network. They expected a fierce fight for the summit. Two four-man patrols were sent up the volcano to reconnoiter routes on the mountain's north face. Popular legend (embroidered by the press in the aftermath of the release of the famous photo) has it that the Marines fought all the way up to the summit. The American riflemen expected an ambush, but none materialized. The Marines did encounter small groups of Japanese defenders on Suribachi, but the majority of the Japanese troops stayed in the tunnel network and only occasionally attacked in small groups and were generally all killed. The patrols made it to the summit and scrambled down again, reporting the lack of enemy contact to Colonel Chandler Johnson.[11] Johnson then called for a platoon of Marines to climb Suribachi; with them, he sent a small American flag to fly if they reached the summit. Again, Marines began the ascent, expecting to be ambushed at any moment, but reached the top of Mount Suribachi without incident. Using a length of pipe they found among the wreckage atop the mountain, the Marines hoisted the U.S. flag over Mount Suribachi: the first foreign flag to fly on Japanese soil.[12] A photograph of this "first flag raising" was taken by photographer Louis R. Lowery.

As the flag went up, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal had just landed on the beach at the foot of Mount Suribachi and decided that he wanted the flag as a souvenir. Popular legend has it that Colonel Johnson wanted the flag for himself, but, in fact, he believed that the flag belonged to the 2nd Battalion 28th Marines, who had captured that section of the island. Johnson sent Sergeant Mike Strank to take a second (larger) flag up the volcano to replace the first. As the first flag came down, the second went up. It was after the second flag went up that Rosenthal took the famous photograph "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" of the replacement flag being planted on the mountain's summit.

Northern Iwo Jima

A U.S. Marine firing his Browning M1917 machine gun at the Japanese
Several M4A3 Sherman tanks equipped with flamethrowers were used to clear Japanese bunkers

Despite Japan's loss of Mount Suribachi on the south end of the island, the Japanese still held strong positions on the north end. The rocky terrain vastly favored defense, even more so than Mount Suribachi. Coupled with this, the fortifications constructed by Kuribayashi were more impressive than at the Southern end of the island.[13] Remaining under the command of Kuribayashi was the equivalent of eight infantry battalions, a tank regiment, and two artillery and three heavy mortar battalions. Also he had about 5,000 gunners and naval infantry. The most arduous task left to the Marines was the overtaking of the Motoyama Plateau with its distinctive Hill 382 and Turkey knob and the area in between referred to as the Amphitheater. This formed the basis of what came to be known as the "meatgrinder". While this was being achieved on the right flank, the left was clearing out Hill 362 with just as much difficulty. The overall objective at this point was to take control of airfield no. 2 in the center of the island. However, every "penetration seemed to become a disaster" as "units were raked from the flanks, chewed up—sometimes wiped out. Tanks were destroyed by interlocking fire or were hoisted into the air on the spouting fireballs of buried mines".[14] As a result the fighting bogged down with Americans casualties piling up. Even capturing these points was not a solution to the problem since a previously secured position could be attacked from the rear by the use of the tunnels and hidden pillboxes. As such, it was said that "they could take these heights at will, and then regret it".[15]

The Marines nevertheless found ways to prevail under the circumstances. It was observed that during bombardments, the Japanese would hide their guns and themselves in the caves only to reappear when the troops would advance and lay devastating fire on them. The Japanese had over time learned basic American strategy which was to lay heavy bombardment before an infantry attack. Consequently, General Erskine ordered the 9th Marine Regiment to attack under the cover of darkness with no preliminary barrage. This came to be a resounding success with many soldiers taken out while still sleeping. This was a key moment in the capture of hill 362.[16] It held such importance that the Japanese organized a counterattack the following night. Although Kuribayashi had forbidden the suicide charges familiar with other battles in the Pacific, the commander of the area decided on a banzai charge with the optimistic goal of recapturing Mount Suribachi. Captain Samaji Inouye and his 1,000 men charged the American position inflicting 347 casualties (90 deaths). The Marines counted 784 dead Japanese soldiers the next day.[17] There was also a kamikaze air attack (the only one of the battle) on the ships anchored at sea on 21 February, which resulted in the sinking of the escort carrier USS Bismarck Sea, severe damage to USS Saratoga and slight damage to the escort carrier USS Lunga Point, an LST and a transport.[16]

Although the island was officially declared secure at 18:00 on 26 March, 35 days after the landings, the 5th Marine Division still faced Kuribayashi's stronghold in a gorge 640 m (700 yd) at the northwestern end of the island. On 21 March, the Marines destroyed the command post in the gorge with four tons of explosives and on March 24, Marines sealed the remaining caves at the northern tip of the island.[18] However, on the night of 25 March, a 300-man Japanese force launched a final counterattack in the vicinity of Airfield No. 2. Army pilots, Seabees and Marines of the 5th Pioneer Battalion and 28th Marines fought the Japanese force for up to 90 minutes but suffered heavy casualties (53 were killed, and another 120 were wounded).[citation needed] Two Marines from the 36th Depot Company, an all-African-American unit, received the Bronze Star. 1st Lieutenant Harry Martin of the 5th Pioneer Battalion was the last Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor during the battle.[19][20] Although still a matter of speculation because of conflicting accounts from surviving Japanese veterans, it has been said that Kuribayashi led this final assault,[2] which unlike the loud banzai charge of previous battles, was characterised as a silent attack. If ever proven true, Kuribayashi would have been the highest ranking Japanese officer to have personally led an attack during World War II. Additionally, this would also be Kuribayashi's final act, a departure from the normal practice of the commanding Japanese officers committing seppuku behind the lines while the rest perished in the banzai charge, as happened during the battles of Saipan and Okinawa.


A flamethrower operator of Co. E, 2nd Battalion 9th Marines runs under fire on Iwo Jima

A weapon heavily used in the Pacific was the United States M2A1 flamethrower. Featuring two tanks containing fuel and compressed gas the mixture combines to produce a force shooting flame out of the tip.[Division of Military History and Diplomacy, National Museum of American History 1], these flamethrowers were used to kill Japanese holed into pillboxes, buildings and caves. A battalion would assign one flamethrower per platoon with one reserve flamethrower in each group. Flamethrower operators were usually in more danger than regular troops as the short range of their weapon required close combat, and the visibility of the flames on the battlefield made them a prominent target for snipers. Still they were essential to breaking the enemy and one battalion commander called the flamethrower the “best single weapon of the operation”[21]

Marines later experimented putting flamethrowers on tanks which were also deployed during battle. Their effectiveness was more limited due to the rough terrain of Iwo Jima. A flamethrower tank would have a range of approximately 100 yd (91 m), carry 300 gallons of fuel and have a firing time of 150 seconds.[22]


U.S. Marines pose on top of enemy pillbox with a captured Japanese flag

Of the 22,060 Japanese soldiers entrenched on the island, 21,844 died either from fighting or by ritual suicide. Only 216 were captured during the battle. According to The official Navy Department Library website,“The 36-day (Iwo Jima) assault resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead.”[23] To put that into context, the 82-day Battle for Okinawa lasted from early April until mid-June 1945 and U.S. (5 Army and 2 Marine Corps Divisions) casualties were over 62,000 of whom over 12,000 were killed or missing ; while the Battle of the Bulge lasted 40 days (16 Dec 44 – 25 Jan 45) with almost 90,000 U.S. casualties; 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded, and 23,000 captured or missing.

Iwo Jima was also the only U.S. Marine battle where the American casualties exceeded the Japanese,[5] although Japanese combat deaths numbered three times as many American deaths. 2 US Marines were captured as POWs during the battle, though neither of them survived their captivity. USS Bismarck Sea had also been lost, as the last U.S. aircraft carrier sunk in World War II.[2] Because all the civilians had been evacuated, there were no civilian casualties at Iwo Jima, unlike at Saipan and Okinawa.[24]

After Iwo Jima, it was estimated there were no more than 300 Japanese left alive in the island's warren of caves and tunnels. In fact, there were close to 3,000. The Japanese bushido code of honor, coupled with effective propaganda which portrayed American G.I.s as ruthless animals, prevented surrender for many Japanese soldiers. Those who could not bring themselves to commit suicide hid in the caves during the day and came out at night to prowl for provisions. Some did eventually surrender and were surprised that the Americans often received them with compassion, offering water, cigarettes, or coffee.[25] The last of these holdouts on the island, two of Lieutenant Toshihiko Ohno's men, Yamakage Kufuku and Matsudo Linsoki, lasted six years without being caught and finally surrendered in 1951[26] (another source gives the date of surrender as January 6, 1949).[27]

Strategic importance

Given the number of casualties, the necessity and long-term significance of the island's capture[28] to the outcome of the war was a contentious issue from the beginning, and remains disputed. As early as April 1945, retired Chief of Naval Operations, William V. Pratt, asked in Newsweek magazine about the

expenditure of manpower to acquire a small, God-forsaken island, useless to the Army as a staging base and useless to the Navy as a fleet base ... [one] wonders if the same sort of airbase could not have been reached by acquiring other strategic localities at lower cost.[29]

Pratt did not know, or else could not disclose, the need to take Iwo Jima for delivery of the atomic bomb. Iwo Jima was designated a crucial emergency landing point for the B-29s carrying the atomic bombs destined for Japan in late 1945, at least four months after the European D-Day (6 June 1944). The 509th Composite Group practiced mock emergency landings on Iwo Jima at its Utah base opened in December 1944.[30] B-29s were not entirely reliable, and engine failure was common. Due to the scarcity of materials and engineering complexity, replacement of the bombs could take many months or even years. Thus planners feared that the loss of the bombs into the Pacific would have delayed the end of the war and potentially forced a full scale invasion of the Japanese mainland. Due to the extreme secrecy surrounding the Manhattan Project, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) could not disclose or even hint at the critical need to take Iwo Jima.[31]

Dinah Might surrounded by Marines and Seabees after emergency landing on Iwo Jima

The Japanese on Iwo Jima had radar[32] and were thus able to notify their comrades at home of incoming B-29 Superfortresses flying from the Mariana Islands. Fighter aircraft based on Iwo Jima sometimes attacked these planes, which were especially vulnerable on their way to Japan because they were heavily laden with bombs and fuel. Although the island was used as an air-sea rescue base after its seizure, the traditional justification for Iwo Jima's strategic importance to the United States' war effort has been that it provided a landing and refueling site for American bombers on missions to and from Japan. As early as 4 March 1945, while fighting was still taking place, the B-29 Dinah Might of the USAAF 9th Bomb Group reported it was low on fuel near the island and requested an emergency landing. Despite enemy fire, the airplane landed on the Allied-controlled section of the island, without incident, and was serviced, refueled and departed. In all, 2,251 B-29 landings on Iwo Jima were recorded during the war.[33] Moskin records that 1,191 fighter escorts and 3,081 strike sorties were flown from Iwo Jima against Japan.[34]

The lessons learned on Iwo Jima served as guidelines for the following Battle of Okinawa and the planned invasion of the Japanese homeland. For example, "because of the casualties taken at Iwo Jima on the first day, it was decided to make the preparatory bombardment the heaviest yet delivered on to a Pacific island".[35] Also, in the plan for the attack on the main islands, it was taken into account that around a third of the troops committed to Iwo Jima and again at Okinawa had died.[36] None of these calculations played much if any of a role in the original decision to invade, however, which was almost entirely based on the USAAF's belief that the island would be a useful base for long-range fighter escorts. These escorts proved both impractical and unnecessary, and only ten such missions were ever flown from Iwo Jima.[37] Other justifications are also debatable. Although some Japanese interceptors were based on Iwo Jima, their impact on the American bombing effort was marginal; in the three months before the invasion only 11 B-29s were lost as a result.[38] The Superfortresses found it unnecessary to make any major detour around the island.[39] The capture of Iwo Jima did not affect the Japanese early-warning radar system, which continued to receive information on incoming B-29s from the island of Rota (which was never attacked).[40] Some downed B-29 crewmen were saved by air-sea rescue aircraft and vessels operating from the island, but Iwo Jima was only one of many islands that could have been used for such a purpose. As for the importance of the island as a landing and refueling site for bombers, Marine Captain Robert Burrell, then a history instructor at the United States Naval Academy, suggested that only a small proportion of the 2,251 landings were for genuine emergencies, the great majority possibly being for minor technical checkups, training, or refueling. According to Burrell,

this justification became prominent only after the Marines seized the island and incurred high casualties. The tragic cost of Operation Detachment pressured veterans, journalists, and commanders to fixate on the most visible rationalization for the battle. The sight of the enormous, costly, and technologically sophisticated B-29 landing on the island's small airfield most clearly linked Iwo Jima to the strategic bombing campaign. As the myths about the flag raisings on Mount Suribachi reached legendary proportions, so did the emergency landing theory in order to justify the need to raise that flag.[41]

Nevertheless, in promoting his expanded exploration of the issue, The Ghosts of Iwo Jima, Burrell's publishers also claim that the very losses formed the basis for a "reverence for the Marine Corps" that not only embodied the "American national spirit" but ensured the "institutional survival" of the Marine Corps.[42]


The memorial on top of Suribachi
The 60th anniversary Reunion at the Japanese part of the memorial

The United States Navy has commissioned several ships of the name USS Iwo Jima.

On February 19, 1985, the 40th anniversary of the landings, an event called the Reunion of Honor was held. The veterans of both sides who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima attended the event. The place was the invasion beach where U.S. forces landed. A memorial on which inscriptions were engraved by both sides was built at the center of the meeting place. Japanese attended at the mountain side, where the Japanese inscription was carved, and Americans attended at the shore side, where the English inscription was carved. After unveiling and offering of flowers were made, the representatives of both countries approached the memorial; upon meeting, they shook hands. The combined Japan-U.S. memorial service of the 50th anniversary of the battle was held in front of the monument in February 1995. Further memorial services have been held on later anniversaries.

The importance of the battle to Marines today is demonstrated in pilgrimages made to the island, and specifically the summit of Suribachi.[43] Marines will often leave dog tags, rank insignia, or other tokens at the monuments in homage.[44] Iwo Jima Day is observed annually on February 19 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts[45] with a ceremony at the State House.

Medal of Honor awards

The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is bestowed on a member of the United States armed forces who distinguishes himself by "...conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States..." Because of its nature, the medal is commonly awarded posthumously; since its creation during the American Civil War it has only been presented 3,464 times. During this one-month-long battle, 27 U.S. military personnel were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions, 13 of them posthumously. Of the 27 medals awarded for the actions at Iwo Jima, 22 were presented to Marines and five were presented to United States Navy sailors; this was 28% of the 82 Medals of Honor awarded to Marines in the entirety of World War II.[46]

Movies and documentaries

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Burrell 2006, p. 83. Burrell talks about how many historians have overestimated the number Japanese defenders, with 20,000 and even 25,000 listed. Burrell puts the range between 18,061 and 18,591, with exactly 216 of these taken prisoner. The rest were KIA or MIA.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Morison, Samuel Eliot (2002) [1960]. Victory in the Pacific, 1945. Volume 14 of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252070658. OCLC 49784806. 
  3. ^ "Letters from Iwo Jima". World War II Multimedia Database. 
  4. ^ "Battle of Iwo Jima—Japanese Defense". World War II Naval Strategy. 
  5. ^ a b O'Brien, Cyril J.. "Iwo Jima Retrospective".,13190,NI_Iwo_Jima2,00.html. Retrieved 2007-06-21. 
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  • Allen, Robert E. (2004). The First Battalion of the 28th Marines on Iwo Jima: A Day-by-Day History from Personal Accounts and Official Reports, with Complete Muster Rolls. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0786405600. OCLC 41157682. 
  • Bradley, James; Ron Powers (2001) [2000]. Flags of Our Fathers. New York: Bantam. ISBN 055338029X. OCLC 48215748. 
  • Bradley, James (2003). Flyboys: A True Story of Courage. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0316105848. OCLC 52071383. 
  • Buell, Hal (2006). Uncommon Valor, Common Virtue: Iwo Jima and the Photograph that Captured America. New York: Penguin Group. ISBN 0425209806. OCLC 65978720. 
  • Burrell, Robert S. "Breaking the Cycle of Iwo Jima Mythology: A Strategic Study of Operation Detachment," Journal of Military History Volume 68, Number 4, October 2004, pp. 1143-1186 and rebuttal in Project MUSE
  • Burrell, Robert S. (2006). The Ghosts of Iwo Jima. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 1585444839. OCLC 61499920. 
  • Eldridge, Robert D.; Charles W. Tatum (2011). Fighting Spirit: The Memoirs of Major Yoshitaka Horie and the Battle of Iwo Jima. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1591148562. 
  • Hammel, Eric (2006). Iwo Jima: Portrait of a Battle: United States Marines at War in the Pacific. St. Paul, Minn.: Zenith Press. ISBN 0760325200. OCLC 69104268. 
  • Hearn, Chester (2003). Sorties into @#!*% : The Hidden War on Chichi Jima. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0275980812. OCLC 51968985. 
  • Kakehashi, Kumiko (2007). So Sad to Fall in Battle: An Account of War Based on General Tadamichi Kuribayashi's Letters from Iwo Jima. Presidio Press. ISBN 0891419179. 
  • Kirby, Lawrence F. (1995). Stories From The Pacific: The Island War 1942–1945. Manchester, Mass.: The Masconomo Press. ISBN 0964510316. OCLC 32971472. 
  • Leckie, Robert (2005) [1967]. The Battle for Iwo Jima. New York: ibooks, Inc. ISBN 1590192419. OCLC 56015751. 
  • Linenthal, Edward T. "Shaping a Heroic Presence: Iwo Jima in American Memory," Reviews in American History Vol. 21, No. 1 (March 1993), pp. 8-12 in JSTOR
  • Lucas, Jack; D. K. Drum (2006). Indestructible: The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0306814706. OCLC 68175700. 
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot (2002) [1970]. Victory in the Pacific, 1945, vol. 14 of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252070658. OCLC 49784806. 
  • Newcomb, Richard F.; Harry Schmidt (2002) [1965]. Iwo Jima. New York: Owl Books. ISBN 0805070710. OCLC 48951047. 
  • Overton, Richard E. (2006). God Isn't Here: A Young American's Entry into World War II and His Participation in the Battle for Iwo Jima. Clearfield, Utah: American Legacy Media. ISBN 0976154706. OCLC 60694955. 
  • Ross, Bill D. (1986) [1985]. Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor. New York: Vintage. ISBN 0394742885. OCLC 13582622. 
  • Shively, John C. (2006). The Last Lieutenant: A Foxhole View of the Epic Battle for Iwo Jima. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253347289. OCLC 61761637. 
  • Toyn, Gary W. (2006). The Quiet Hero: The Untold Medal of Honor Story of George E. Wahlen at the Battle for Iwo Jima. Clearfield, Utah: American Legacy Media. ISBN 0976154714. OCLC 72161745. 
  • Veronee, Marvin D. (2001). A portfolio of photographs: selected to illustrate the setting for my experience in the battle of Iwo Jima, World War II, Pacific theater. Quantico: Visionary Pub.. ISBN 0971592829. OCLC 52001277. 
  • Wells, John K. (1995). Give Me Fifty Marines Not Afraid to Die: Iwo Jima. Abilene, Tex.: Quality Publications. ISBN 096446750X. OCLC 32153036. 
  • Wheeler, Richard (1994) [1980]. Iwo. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557509220. OCLC 31693687. 
  • Wheeler, Richard (1994) [1965]. The @#!*% Battle for Suribachi. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557509239. OCLC 31970164. 
  • Wright, Derrick (2007) [1999]. The Battle of Iwo Jima 1945. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0750945443. OCLC 67871973. 
  • Kindersley, Dorling; World War II: The Definitive Visual History; DK publishing; 2009


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