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Battle of Iwo Jima
The Battle of Iwo Jima was fought between the United States and Japan during February and March of 1945, during the Pacific Campaign of World War II. As a result of the battle, the United States gained control of the island of Iwo Jima and the airfields located there. The battle is famous for the raising of the US flag by U.S. Marines during the battle.
Iwo Jima is one of the Volcano Islands, part of the Ogasawara Islands, a group of islands about 670 miles (1,080 km) south of Tokyo, 700 miles (1,130 km) north of Guam and nearly halfway between Tokyo and Saipan. Iwo Jima, translated into English, means "Sulphur Island," named for the sulphur deposits that extend to the very surface of the island. From northeast to southwest, the island measures less than five miles (8 km) across; the width varies from approximately two and a half miles (4 km) in the northern part to only one-half mile (800 m) in the southern portion. Altogether, Iwo Jima occupies less than eight square miles (21 km²).
At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor an Army force of about 3,700–3,800 men garrisoned Chichi Jima. In addition, about 1,200 naval personnel manned the Chichi Jima Naval Base, a small seaplane base, the radio and weather station, and various gunboat, subchaser, and minesweeping units. On Iwo Jima, the Imperial Navy had constructed an airfield about 2,000 yards northeast of Mount Suribachi. Initially stationed on this field were 1,500 naval aviation personnel and 20 aircraft.
In the wake of the American seizure of the Marshall Islands and devastating air attacks against Truk in the Caroline Islands in February 1944 , the Japanese military leadership conducted a reappraisal of 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 from thence to the Ogasawara Islands. In March 1944, the Thirty-First Army, commanded by General Hideyoshi Obata , was activated for the purpose of garrisoning this inner line. The commander of the Chichi Jima garrison was placed nominally in command of Army and Navy units in the Ogasawara Islands.
Following the American seizure of bases in the Marshalls in the battles of Kwajalein and Eniwetok in February 1944, both Army and Navy reinforcements were sent to Iwo Jima. Five hundred men from the naval base at Yokosuka and an additional 500 from Chichi Jima reached Iwo Jima during March and April 1944. At the same time, with the arrival of reinforcements from Chichi Jima and the home islands, the Army garrison on Iwo Jima had reached a strength of over 5,000 men, equipped with 13 artillery pieces, 200 light and heavy machine guns, and 4,552 rifles. In addition, the defense boasted 120 mm coast artillery guns, twelve heavy anti-aircraft guns, and thirty 25 mm dual-mount anti-aircraft guns.
The loss of the Marianas during the summer of 1944 greatly increased the importance of the Ogasawaras for the Japanese, who were fully cognizant that the loss of these islands would facilitate American air raids against the home islands. Such raids, beyond any doubt, would raise havoc with the entire Japanese war production program, and deal a severe blow to civilian morale.
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 naval strength and no longer constituted a major factor in frustrating possible American landings. Moreover, aircraft losses throughout 1944 had been so heavy that, even if war production was not materially slowed by American air attacks, combined Japanese air strength was not expected to increase to 3,000 aircraft until March or April of 1945. Even then, these planes could not be used from bases in the home islands against Iwo Jima because their range did not exceed 550 miles (890 km); besides, all available aircraft had to be hoarded for possible use on Formosa and adjacent islands where land bases were available in close proximity.
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 defense, 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.
In the opening days of 1945, Japan faced the prospect of invasion by the Allied forces. Daily bomber raids from the Marianas hit the mainland as part of Operation Scavenger. Iwo Jima served as an early warning station, which would radio reports of incoming bombers back to mainland Japan. When Allied bombers arrived over Japanese cities, the Japanese air defenses would be ready and waiting for them.
At the end of the Battle of Leyte in the Philippines, the Allies were left with a 2-month lull in their operations prior to the planned invasion of Okinawa, which was considered unacceptable. Thus, the decision was made to invade Iwo Jima. The landing was designated Operation Detachment.
Japanese defense preparations
Even before the fall of Saipan in June 1944, Japanese planners knew that Iwo Jima would have to be reinforced materially if it were to the held for any length of time, and preparations were made to send sizable numbers of men and quantities of materiel to that island. In late May, Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi was summoned to the office of the Prime Minister, General Hideki Tojo, who informed the general that he had been chosen to defend Iwo Jima to the last. Kuribayashi was further apprised of the importance of this assignment when Tojo pointed out that the eyes of the entire nation were focused on the defense of Iwo. Fully aware of the implications of the task entrusted to him, the general accepted. By 8 June 1944, Kuribayashi was on his way to his toughest and final assignment, determined to convert Iwo Jima into an invincible fortress that would withstand any type of attack from any quarter.
When he arrived, some 80 fighters were stationed on Iwo Jima, but by early July there were just four left. A United States Navy force boldly appeared within sight of the island and subjected the Japanese to a naval bombardment from point-blank range over two days. This shelling destroyed every building on the island and smashed the four remaining aircraft.
Much to the surprise of the Japanese garrison on Iwo, an American invasion of the island did not materialize during the summer of 1944. There was little doubt that in time the Americans would be compelled to attack the island. General Kuribayashi was more determined than ever to exact the heaviest possible price for Iwo when the invaders came. Without naval and air support, it was a foregone conclusion that Iwo could not hold out indefinitely against an invader possessing both naval and air supremacy.
As a first step in readying Iwo for a prolonged defense, the island commander ordered the evacuation of all civilians from the island. This was accomplished by late July. Next came an overall plan for defense of the island. Lieutenant General Hideyoshi Obata , Commanding General of the Thirty-First Army, early in 1944 had been responsible for the defense of Iwo prior to his return to the Marianas. At the time, faithful to the doctrine that an invasion had to be met practically at the water's edge, Obata had ordered the emplacement of artillery and the construction of pillboxes near the beaches. General Kuribayashi had different ideas. Instead of a futile effort to hold the beaches, he planned to defend the latter with a sprinkling of automatic weapons and infantry. Artillery, mortars, and rockets would be emplaced on the foot and slopes of Mount Suribachi, as well as in the high ground to the north of Chidori airfield.
A prolonged defense of the island required the preparation of an extensive system of caves and tunnels, for the naval bombardment had clearly shown that surface installations could not withstand extensive shelling. To this end, mining engineers were dispatched from Japan to draw blueprints for projected underground fortifications that would consist of elaborate tunnels at varying levels to assure good ventilation and minimize the effect of bombs or shells exploding near the entrances or exits.
At the same time, reinforcements were gradually beginning to reach the island. As commander of the 109th Infantry Division, General Kuribayashi decided first of all to shift the 2nd Independent Mixed Brigade, consisting of about 5,000 men under Major General Kotau Osuga , from Chichi to Iwo. With the fall of Saipan, 2,700 men of the 145th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Masuo Ikeda , were diverted to Iwo. These reinforcements, who reached the island during July and August 1944, brought the strength of the garrison up to approximately 12,700 men. Next came 1,233 members of the 204th Naval Construction Battalion, who quickly set to work constructing concrete pillboxes and other fortifications.
On 10 August 1944, Rear Admiral Toshinosuka Ichimaru reached Iwo, shortly followed by 2,216 naval personnel, including naval aviators and ground crews. The admiral, a renowned Japanese aviator, had been crippled in an airplane crash in the mid-twenties and, ever since the outbreak of the war, had chafed under repeated rear echelon assignments.
Next to arrive on Iwo were artillery units and five antitank battalions. Even though numerous supply ships on route to Iwo Jima were sunk by American submarines and aircraft, substantial quantities of materiel did reach Iwo during the summer and autumn of 1944. By the end of the year, General Kuribayashi had available to him 361 artillery pieces of 75 mm or larger caliber, a dozen 320 mm mortars, 65 medium (150 mm) and light (81 mm) mortars, 33 naval guns 80 mm or larger, and 94 anti-aircraft guns 75 mm or larger. In addition to this formidable array of large caliber guns, the Iwo defenses could boast of more than two hundred 20 mm and 25 mm antiaircraft guns and 69 37 mm and 47 mm antitank guns. The fire power of the artillery was further supplemented with a variety of rockets varying from an eight-inch type that weighed 90 kg and could travel 2–3 km, to a giant 250 kg projectile that had a range of more than 7 kg. Altogether, 70 rocket guns and their crews reached Iwo Jima.
In order to further strengthen the Iwo defenses, the 26th Tank Regiment, which had been stationed at Pusan, Korea after extended service in Manchuria, received orders for Iwo. The officer commanding this regiment was Lieutenant Colonel Baron Takeichi Nishi . The regiment, consisting of 600 men and 28 tanks, sailed from Japan in mid-July on board the Nisshu Maru. As the ship, sailing in a convoy, approached Chichi Jima on 18 July 1944, it was torpedoed by an American submarine, USS Cobia . Even though only two members of the 26th Tank Regiment failed to survive the sinking, all of the regiment's 28 tanks went to the bottom of the sea. It would be December before these tanks could be replaced, but 22 finally reached Iwo Jima.
Initially, Colonel Nishi had planned to employ his armor as a type of "roving fire brigade", to be committed at focal points of combat. The rugged terrain precluded such employment and in the end, under the colonel's watchful eyes, the tanks were deployed in static positions. They were either buried or their turrets were dismounted and so skillfully emplaced in the rocky ground that they were practically invisible from the air or from the ground.
For the remainder of 1944, the construction of fortifications on Iwo also went into high gear. The Japanese were quick to discover that the black volcanic ash that existed in abundance all over the island could be converted into concrete of superior quality when mixed with cement. Pillboxes near the beaches north of Mount Suribachi were constructed of reinforced concrete, many of them with walls four feet thick. At the same time, an elaborate system of caves, concrete blockhouses, and pillboxes was established. One of the results of American air attacks and naval bombardment in the early summer of 1944 had been to drive the Japanese so deep underground that eventually their defenses became virtually immune to air or naval bombardment.
While the Japanese on Peleliu Island in the Western Carolines, also awaiting American invasion, had turned the improvement of natural caves into an art, the defenders of Iwo developed it into a science. Because of the importance of the underground positions, 25 percent of the garrison was detailed to tunneling. Positions constructed underground ranged in size from small caves for a few men to several underground chambers capable of holding 300 or 400 men. In order to prevent personnel from becoming trapped in any one excavation, the subterranean installations were provided with multiple entrances and exits, as well as stairways and interconnecting passageways. Special attention had to be paid to providing adequate ventilation, since sulphur fumes were present in many of the underground installations. Fortunately for the Japanese, most of the volcanic stone on Iwo was so soft that it could be cut with hand tools.
General Kuribayashi established his command post in the northern part of the island, about 500 m northeast of Kita village and south of Kitano Point. This installation, 20 m underground, consisted of caves of varying sizes, connected by 150 m of tunnels. Here the island commander had his own warroom in one of three small concrete enclosed chambers; the two similar rooms were used by the staff. A communications blockhouse protruded above the ground level. This structure was 50 m long, 20 m wide; the roof had a thickness of 3 m with walls 2 m wide. The blockhouse was manned by 70 radio operators who worked in shifts. Farther south on Hill 382, the second highest elevation on the island, the Japanese constructed a radio and weather station. Nearby, on an elevation just southeast of the station, an enormously large blockhouse was constructed which served as the headquarters of Colonel Chosaku Kaido , who commanded all artillery on Iwo Jima. Other hills in the northern portion of the island were tunnelled out, All of these major excavations featured multiple entrances and exits and were virtually invulnerable to damage from artillery or aerial bombardment. Typical of the thoroughness employed in the construction of subterranean defenses was the main communications center south of Kita village, which was so spacious that it contained a chamber 50 m long and 20 m wide. This giant structure was similar in construction and thickness of walls and ceilings to General Kuribayashi's command post. A 150 m tunnel 20 m below the ground led into this vast subterranean chamber.
Perhaps the most ambitious construction project to get under way was the creation of an underground passageway designed to link all major defense installations on the island. As projected, this passageway was to have attained a total length of almost 17 miles (27 km). Had it been completed, it would have linked the formidable underground installations in the northern portion of Iwo Jima with the southern part of the island, where the northern slope of Mount Suribachi alone harbored several thousand yards of tunnels. By the time the Marines landed on Iwo Jima, more than 11 miles (18 km) of tunnels had been completed.
A supreme effort was required of the Japanese personnel engaged in the underground construction work. Aside from the heavy physical labor, the men were exposed to heat from 30–50 °C (90–120 °F), as well as sulphur fumes that forced them to wear gas masks. In numerous instances a work detail had to be relieved after only five minutes. When renewed American air attacks struck the island on 8 December 1944 and thereafter became a daily occurrence until the actual invasion of the island, a large number of men had to be diverted to repairing the damaged airfields.
While Iwo Jima was being converted into a major fortress with all possible speed, General Kuribayashi formulated his final plans for the defense of the island. This plan, which constituted a radical departure from the defensive tactics used by the Japanese earlier in the war, provided for the following major points:
- In order to prevent disclosing their positions to the Americans, Japanese artillery was to remain silent during the expected prelanding bombardment. No fire would be directed against the American naval vessels.
- Upon landing on Iwo Jima, the Americans were not to encounter any opposition on the beaches.
- Once the Americans had advanced about 500 m inland, they were to be taken under the concentrated fire of automatic weapons stationed in the vicinity of Motoyama airfield to the north, as well as automatic weapons and artillery emplaced both on the high ground to the north of the landing beaches and Mount Suribachi to the south.
- After inflicting maximum possible casualties and damage on the landing force, the artillery was to displace northward from the high ground near the Chidori airfield.
In this connection, Kuribayashi stressed once again that he planned to conduct an elastic defense designed to wear down the invasion force. Such prolonged resistance naturally required the defending force to stockpile rations and ammunition. To this end the island commander accumulated a food reserve to last for two and a half months, ever mindful of the fact that the trickle of supplies that was reaching Iwo Jima during the latter part of 1944 would cease altogether once the island was surrounded by a hostile naval force.
During the final months of preparing Iwo Jima for the defense, General Kuribayashi saw to it that the strenuous work of building fortifications did not interfere with the training of units. As an initial step towards obtaining more time for training, he ordered work on the northernmost airfield on the island halted. In an operations order issued in early December, the island commander set 11 February 1945 as the target date for completion of defensive preparations and specified that personnel were to spend 70 percent of their time in training and 30 percent in construction work.
Despite intermittent harassment by American submarines and aircraft, additional personnel continued to arrive on Iwo until February 1945. By that time General Kuribayashi had under his command a force totalling between 21,000 and 23,000 men, including both Army and Navy units.
General Kuribayashi made several changes in his basic defense plan in the months preceding the American invasion of Iwo Jima. The final stratagem, which became effective in January 1945, called for the creation of strong, mutually supporting positions which were to be defended to the death. Neither large scale counterattacks, withdrawals, nor banzai charges were contemplated. The southern portion of Iwo in the proximity of Mount Suribachi was organized into a semi-independent defense sector. Fortifications included casemated coast artillery and automatic weapons in mutually supporting pillboxes. The narrow isthmus to the north of Suribachi was to be defended by a small infantry force. On the other hand this entire area was exposed to the fire of artillery, rocket launchers, and mortars emplaced on Suribachi to the south and the high ground to the north.
A main line of defense, consisting of mutually supporting positions in depth, extended from the northwestern part of the island to the southeast, along a general line from the cliffs to the northwest, across Motoyama Airfield No. 2 to Minami village. From there it continued eastward to the shoreline just south of Tachiiwa Point. The entire line of defense was dotted with pillboxes, bunkers, and blockhouses. Colonel Nishi's immobilized tanks, carefully dug in and camouflaged, further reinforced this fortified area, whose strength was supplemented by the broken terrain. A second line of defense extended from a few hundred yards south of Kitano Point at the very northern tip of Iwo across the still uncompleted Airfield No. 3, to Motoyama village, and then to the area between Tachiiwa Point and the East Boat Basin. This second line contained fewer man-made fortifications, but the Japanese took maximum advantage of natural caves and other terrain features.
As an additional means of protecting the two completed airfields on Iwo from direct assault, the Japanese constructed a number of antitank ditches near the fields and mined all natural routes of approach. When, on 2 January, more than a dozen B-24 Liberator bombers raided Airfield No. 1 and inflicted heavy damage, Kuribayashi diverted more than 600 men, 11 trucks, and 2 bulldozers for immediate repairs. As a result, the airfield again became operational after only 12 hours. Eventually, 2,000 men were assigned the job of filling the bomb craters with as many as 50 men detailed to each bomb crater. The end of 1944 saw American B-24 bombers over Iwo Jima almost every night while U.S. Navy carriers and cruisers frequently sortied into the Ogasawaras. On 8 December 1944, American aircraft dropped more than 800 tons of bombs on Iwo Jima, which shook the Japanese up but did very little real damage to the island defenses. Even though frequent air raids interfered with the Japanese defensive preparations and robbed the garrison of much badly needed sleep, progress of the work was not materially slowed.
As early as 5 January 1945, Admiral Ichimaru conducted a briefing of naval personnel at his command post in which he informed them of the destruction of the Japanese Fleet at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the loss of the Philippines, and the expectation that Iwo would shortly be invaded. Exactly one month later, Japanese radio operators on Iwo reported to the island commander that code signals of American aircraft had undergone an ominous change. On 13 February, a Japanese naval patrol plane spotted 170 American ships moving northwestward from Saipan. All Japanese troops in the Ogasawaras were alerted and occupied their battle positions. On Iwo Jima, preparations for the pending battle had been completed, and the defenders were ready.
On 7 October 1944 Admiral Chester Nimitz and his staff issued a staff study for preliminary planning, which clearly listed the objectives of Operation Detachment. The overriding purpose of the operation was to maintain unremitting military pressure against Japan and to extend American control over the Western Pacific. In American hands, Iwo Jima could be turned into a base from which to attack the Japanese home islands, protect bases in the Marianas, cover naval forces, conduct search operations of the approaches to the Japanese home islands, and provide fighter escort for very long-range operations. Three tasks specifically envisioned in the study were the reduction of enemy naval and air strength and industrial facilities in the home islands; the destruction of Japanese naval and air strength in the Bonin Islands, and the capture, occupation, and subsequent defense of Iwo Jima, which was to be developed into an air base.
On 9 October, General Holland Smith received the staff study, accompanied by a directive from Admiral Nimitz ordering the seizure of Iwo Jima. This directive designated specific commanders for the operation. Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, Commander, Fifth Fleet, was placed in charge as Operation Commander, Task Force 50. Under Spruance, Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, Commander, Amphibious Forces, Pacific, was to command the Joint Expeditionary Force, Task Force 51. Second in command of the Joint Expeditionary Force was Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill . General Holland Smith was designated Commanding General, Expeditionary Troops, Task Force 56.
It was not accidental that these men were selected to command an operation of such vital importance that it has since become known as "the classical amphibious assault of recorded history." All of them had shown their mettle in previous engagements. One chronicler of the Iwo Jima operation put it in the following words:
- The team assigned to Iwo Jima was superb — the very men who had perfected the amphibious techniques from Guadalcanal to Guam. Nearly every problem, it was believed, had been met and mastered along the way, from the jungles of Guadalcanal up through the Solomons, and across the Central Pacific from the bloody reefs of Tarawa to the mountains of the Marianas.
The major units assigned to the Landing Force were the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions. The 3rd Marine Division had already distinguished itself on Bougainville in the Solomons and on Guam in the Marianas. While planning for Operation Detachment was in progress during the late autumn of 1944, the division was still reorganizing on Guam after the heavy fighting for that island and was actively engaged in rounding up or dispatching Japanese that continued to infest the island.
When Admiral Spruance assumed command of all forces assigned to the Central Pacific Task Force on 26 January 1945, CinCPOA Plan 11-44 was in full effect. Designated for the beach assault were the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions, less the 26th Marines , which was to be held in Landing Force reserve. For training purposes prior to the operation, the 26th Marines would remain with the 5th Division. The 3d Marine Division was to stage on Guam and would remain as reserve on board ship in the objective area until D plus 3.
The V Amphibious Corps (VAC) scheme of maneuver for the landings was relatively simple. The 4th and 5th Marine Divisions were to land abreast on the eastern beaches, the 4th on the right and the 5th on the left. When released to VAC, the 3d Marine Division, as Expeditionary Troops Reserve, was to land over the same beaches to take part in the attack or play a defensive role, whichever was called for. The plan called for a rapid exploitation of the beachhead with an advance in a northeasterly direction to capture the entire island. A regiment of the 5th Marine Division was designated to capture Mount Suribachi in the south.
Since there was a possibility of unfavorable surf conditions along the eastern beaches, VAC issued an alternate plan on 8 January 1945, which provided for a landing on the western beaches. However, since predominant northerly or northwesterly winds caused hazardous swells almost continuously along the southwest side of the island, it appeared unlikely that this alternate plan would be put into execution.
The eastern beaches over which the landings were to be made extended for about 3,500 yards northeastward from Mount Suribachi to the East Boat Basin. For purposes of organization and control of the invasion force, these beaches were divided into seven 500-yard segments, which, from left to right, were designated as Green, Red 1 and 2, Yellow 1 and 2, and Blue 1 and 2. The 5th Marine Division, landing over Green, Red 1, and Red 2 beaches, was to advance straight across the island, which at this point formed a narrow isthmus, until it reached the west coast. At the same time, it was to hold along the right, while part of the division wheeled to the south to capture Mount Suribachi. The 4th Marine Division had the specific mission of moving into the center of the isthmus, while its right flank swerved to the north to seize Motoyama Plateau, the high ground above the East Boat Basin. Unless this vital ground to the north of the invasion beaches and Mount Suribachi to the south—terrain features which overlooked the beaches and permitted the enemy to fire at the exposed Marines at will—were quickly seized, the landing force could be expected to take very heavy casualties.
Once the southern portion of Iwo Jima had been secured, the two divisions could join in a combined drive to the north. At this time, the 3d Marine Division, initially in Expeditionary Troop Reserve on board ships near the beachhead, could be disembarked and landed to assist in maintaining the momentum of the VAC attack.
The detailed scheme of maneuver for the landings provided for the 28th Marines of the 5th Marine Division, commanded by Colonel Harry B. Liversedge , to land on the extreme left of the corps on Green 1. On the right of the 28th Marines, the 27th , under Colonel Thomas A. Wornham , was to attack towards the west coast of the island, then wheel northeastward and seize the O-1 Line. Action by the 27th and 28th Marines was designed to drive the enemy from the commanding heights along the southern portion of Iwo, simultaneously securing the flanks and rear of VAC. As far as the 4th Marine Division was concerned, the 23d Marines , commanded by Colonel Walter W. Wensinger , was to go ashore on Yellow 1 and 2 beaches, seize Motoyama Airfield No. 1, then turn to the northeast and seize that part of Motoyama Airfield No. 2 and the O-1 Line within its zone of action. After landing on Blue Beach 1, the 25th Marines , under Colonel John R. Lanigan , was to assist in the capture of Airfield No. 1, the capture of Blue Beach 2, and the O-1 Line within its zone of action. The 24th Marines , under Colonel Walter I. Jordan , was to be held in 4th Marine Division reserve during the initial landings. The 26th Marines , led by Colonel Chester B. Graham , was to be released from corps reserve on D-Day and prepared to support the 5th Marine Division.
Division artillery was to go ashore on order from the respective division commanders. The 4th Marine Division was to be supported by the 14th Marines , commanded by Colonel Louis G. DeHaven ; Colonel James D. Wailer 's 13th Marines was to furnish similar support for the 5th Marine Division.
The operation was to be so timed that at H-Hour 68 LVT (A) 4s, comprising the first wave, were to hit the beach. These vehicles were to advance inland until they reached the first terrace beyond the high-water mark. The armored amphibians would use their 75 mm howitzers and machine guns to the utmost in an attempt to keep the enemy down, thus giving some measure of protection to succeeding waves of Marines who were most vulnerable to enemy fire at the time they debarked from their LVTs. Though early versions of the VAC operations plan had called for tanks of the 4th and 5th Tank Battalions to be landed at H plus 30, subsequent studies of the beaches made it necessary to adopt a more flexible schedule. The possibility of congestion at the water's edge also contributed to this change in plans. In the end, the time for bringing the tanks ashore was left to the discretion of the regimental commanders. Company A of the 5th Tank Battalion attached to the 27th Marines was scheduled to land on the Red Beaches at the prearranged time of H plus 30 minutes.
In the event that the landings took place on the western beaches of Iwo, the alternate plan made provision for a company of the 24th Marines, reinforced by a platoon of armored amphibians from the 2d Armored Amphibian Battalion, to seize Kangoku Rock, a 600 m island lying about 700 m northwest of Iwo Jima. The island could be used as an artillery site and for this reason a contingency plan was prepared to land the 105 mm howitzers of 4/14 there.
The Allies wanted Iwo Jima not only to neutralize threats to its bombers and shipping, but to use its airfields for fighter escort and emergency bomber landings. On February 16, 1945, they commenced a massive three-day air and naval bombardment of the island.
At 02:00 on February 19, battleship guns signaled the commencement of D-Day. Soon 100 bombers attacked the island, followed by another volley from the naval guns. At 08:30, the first of an eventual 30,000 marines of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions, under V Amphibious Corps , landed on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima and a battle for the island commenced.
The Marines faced heavy fire from Mount Suribachi at the south of the island, and fought over inhospitable terrain: rough volcanic ash which allowed neither secure footing or the digging of foxholes. Nevertheless, by that evening the mountain had been surrounded and 30,000 Marines had landed. About 40,000 more would follow.
The climb up Suribachi was fought by the yard. Gunfire was ineffective against the Japanese, but flame throwers and grenades cleared the bunkers. Finally, on February 23, the summit was reached. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal took the famous photograph "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" of the United States flag being planted on the mountain's summit.
With the landing area secure, more Marines and heavy equipment came ashore and the invasion proceeded north to capture the airfields and the remainder of the island. With their customary bravery, most Japanese soldiers fought to the death. Of over 21,800 defenders, only 200 were taken prisoner.
The Allied forces suffered 26,000 casualties, with nearly 7,000 dead. Over a quarter of the Medals of Honor awarded to marines in World War II were given for conduct in the invasion of Iwo Jima.
- "Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue" — Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
- To the Shores of Iwo Jima , a 1945 American documentary produced by the United States Navy, Marine Corps and the Coast Guard.
- Sands of Iwo Jima, a 1949 American film starring John Wayne.
- Iwo Jima: Amphibious Epic by Lt. Col. Whitman S. Bartley, USMC
- History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II Volume IV: Western Pacific Operations
by George W. Garand and Truman R. Strobridge
- IwoJima.com: A site dedicated to Iwo Jima and the famous battle
- A site featuring a short film of the Iwo Jima Memorial
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