Fought from 19 February to 26 March 1945, Battle of Iwo Jima was an amphibious attack by the American forces on the island of Iwo Jima in Japan during the Second World War. Lasting for 36 days, the battle saw some of the fiercest fighting of the Pacific War. The photo of raising the U.S. flag over Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima became an iconic image of not only the battle but of World War II. Know about the causes, the engagement and the significance of the Battle of Iwo Jima through these 10 interesting facts.
#1 Iwo Jima was used to stage air strikes on U.S. occupied Mariana Islands
Between June and August 1944, U.S. forces captured the Mariana Islands. These islands provided bases for Boeing B-29 bombers to attack Japanese Home Islands (mainland Japan). Iwo Jima served as an early warning station to radio reports of the bombers to Japan. It was also used by Japan to stage air attacks on the Mariana Islands to disrupt the U.S. bombings of Japan. Between November 1944 and January 1945, the Japanese destroyed 11 B-29s and damaged a further 43. Furthermore, Iwo Jima was used by Japanese naval units when they were in dire need of a place of safety.
#2 The operation to capture Iwo Jima was code named Operation Detachment
To eliminate the above mentioned problems and to provide a staging area for Operation Downfall, the eventual invasion of Japanese Home Islands, U.S. decided to start an operation for the capture of Iwo Jima. It was given the code name Operation Detachment. U.S. intelligence sources were confident that it would not take more than a week for Iwo Jima to fall not knowing that Japan was preparing a deep and complex defense of the island. Battle of Iwo Jima lasted for 36 days and saw some of the fiercest fighting of the Pacific War.
#3 Japan knew they would lose the Battle of Iwo Jima
Japan knew that the importance of defending Iwo Jima as its loss would facilitate American air raids against Japanese Home Islands. However Imperial Japanese Navy had already lost almost all of its power and could not prevent U.S. from landing. Also depleting air strength meant the remaining warplanes had to be hoarded to defend Japanese Home Islands. With no available means to defend Iwo Jima, Japan decided to rely on the established defensive equipment in the area and check U.S. by delaying tactics to gain time for defense of the mainland.
#4 Kuribayashi commanded the defense of Iwo Jima
Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi was assigned the task of defending Iwo Jima. Knowing he couldn’t win the battle, he aimed at inflicting heavy casualties on American forces to force them to reconsider invasion of Mainland Japan. His strategy was radically different from Japan’s usual strategy of beach defense to face the landings directly. He used Defense in Depth military strategy which seeks to delay rather than prevent the advance of the attacker, buying time and causing additional casualties. A complex and elaborate defense was prepared. Among other things, an extensive system of tunnels was built to connect the prepared positions so that positions which had been cleared could be re-occupied. Numerous snipers and camouflaged machine gun positions were also set up.
#5 The U.S. pre-landing bombardment was mostly ineffective
On 15 June 1944 the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army Air Forces began naval bombardments and air raids against Iwo Jima which continued till 19 February 1945, the day U.S. Marines landed on the beach marking the start of the Battle of Iwo Jima. The pre-landing bombardment carried on for around eight months. Though bunkers and caves were destroyed, the bombing had limited success as the Japanese were heavily dug-in and fortified. Kuribayashi’s superiors had ordered him to erect some beach defenses and these were the only Japanese defenses that were destroyed.
#6 The U.S. Marine Corps were surprised by Japanese preparations
The initial landings were not greeted with Japanese fire as Kuribayashi wanted the beach full of Marine Corps and their equipment. Many who landed believed that the pre-bombardment had destroyed the Japanese defenses. Hence when the Japanese opened fire from concealed positions heavy losses were inflicted on the Marines. Mount Suribachi is the highest point on the island. The heavy artillery there opened fire and then closed the steel doors to prevent counter fire. Also the tunnel system which allowed Japanese to re-occupy cleared bunkers proved effective as Marines, who walked past them were surprised by fresh fire resulting in numerous casualties.
#7 “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” photograph was taken by Joe Rosenthal
The Marines were able to cut off Mount Suribachi from the rest of the island by the morning of 23 February. A group of Marines were sent to capture the summit. They were given an American flag to fly to signal its capture. They met with little Japanese resistance and hoisted the U.S. flag over Mount Suribachi: the first foreign flag to fly on Japanese soil. Photograph of this was taken by American photographer Joe Rosenthal. Upon its release it became extremely popular and an iconic image of the war. It is the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication and one of the most reproduced photographs of all time.
#8 Iwo Jima was captured on March 26, 1945
Despite losing Suribachi, Japan held strong positions. To counter Japanese tactics, Americans planned attacks during the night. This proved very successful and numerous Japanese soldiers were killed while they slept. Also Sherman M4A3R3 flamethrower tanks proved to be effective in clearing Japanese positions. On March 8, the Marines were able to split Kuribayashi’s defenses into two. On 21 March, the Marines destroyed the Japanese stronghold. On the night of March 25, a 300-man Japanese force launched a final counterattack inflicting more than a 100 casualties on U.S. It is said that Kuribayashi led the attack himself. Iwo Jima was declared to be captured on the morning of March 26, 1945.
#9 It is the only battle by U.S. Marine Corps in which U.S. casualties exceeded Japanese
The Battle of Iwo Jima resulted in the death of 18,844 out of 22,060 Japanese soldiers on the island. 216 were captured and the remaining survived secretly on the island, many of whom surrendered later. America suffered more than 26,000 casualties, including 6,800 dead. Due to heavy casualties the necessity of the battle has been questioned. Its critics say that U.S. gained little by capturing Iwo Jima. Among the points they cite are: the loss of U.S. B-29s due to Iwo Jima was not very significant, Japan continued to receive warning signals of warplanes from another island (Rota) and Iwo Jima proved “useless to the Army as a staging base and useless to the Navy as a fleet base”.
#10 27 men were awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroics at Iwo Jima
27 U.S. Marine Corps and Navy personnel were awarded Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration in America, for their heroics in the Battle of Iwo Jima. On 19 February 1985, an event was held to mark the 40th anniversary of the landing on Iwo Jima. Called “Reunion of Honor”, it was attended by veterans from both sides that fought the battle. A memorial to the Flag Raising was built on top of Mt. Suribachi. The famous Marine Corps War Memorial in Virginia is also based on the flag raising photograph.
Different perspectives of Iwo Jima battle by Clint Eastwood
The Battle of Iwo Jima has featured in several films including Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. While the former tells the story of the battle from American perspective and is named after the famous flag raising incident; the latter gives the Japanese perspective of the battle. The two films were directed by Clint Eastwood. They were critically acclaimed and both received Academy Award nominations.