Discussion in 'War Against Japan' started by Friedrich H, May 13, 2004.

  1. Friedrich H

    Friedrich H Senior Member

    "Glory and misery at Iwo Jima"

    by Friedrich vH.uH.

    The little volcanic island of Iwo Jima is part of Japanese territory, a bit far from the rest of it, forming a triangle with Tokio and Okinawa. Its strategic position, 650 straight kilometres from Tokio, made it extremely important for both sides, the Japanese and the Americans, in the year of 1944, when the war in the Pacific Ocean was starting its end and reaching a bloody climax.
    Iwo Jima is a very small island, made of volcanic rock and it only has 24 square kilometres; 8 kilometres long and 3 kilometres wide. The island is dominated by the tall and steep mount Suribachi, which was an ideal observation and defensive position. In December 1944 the conquest of the Philippines Isles by general MacArthur's forces was already a fact and the war was being taken to the very Japanese soil, making the Japanese react in a furious way. At this time, Iwo Jima had acquired a tremendous strategic importance; from there, the gigantic American bombers B-29 could be intercepted by enemy observers or enemy fighter planes so the Japanese could prevent the destruction of their country from the air. By the date of the American invasion of Iwo Jima, an airfield was partially finished; it had two fully-operational airstrips and a third one was under construction, also, Japanese planes were already operating there.

    Since February of the following year, the island had been object of 69 air raids by 1.269 planes and had suffered heavy naval bombing in 8 occasions; in this way, the Americans tried in vain to stop the construction of defences and to destroy the air field.

    The island was a fortress by itself; its flat black-sand beaches had no hiding places for the attackers, the thick vegetation was another formidable obstacle, the hidden and tall rock positions at mount Suribachi were natural bunkers and finally, there were the artificial defences. The Japanese had planned to build 28 kilometres of tunnels dug in the very volcanic rocks of the island, with underground liaisons, traps, strong points, command centres and supply deposits. Even if hard work took place during many months, for the time of the invasion only 18 kilometres out of the original 28 had been successfully finished because time and resources were not enough and there had been several problems during the excavation, mainly natural gas gaps. Despite of that, the island was a true mortal trap, because with those defensive positions, artificial and natural, the attackers would be on open field, at the sight of many fire-spots perfectly camouflaged that had to be neutralised gradually. These were the tactics which formed the Japanese strategy for the moment: inflict an enormous amount of casualties to the Americans, so the sensitive people back home will sue for peace.

    The days 16th and 17th of December 1944, the Americans launched a huge combined operation. A large combat group under admiral Andrew Mitscher threw 30 aircraft carriers and 1.200 aeroplanes against the Tokio area to prevent the enemy from reinforcing the garrisons of Bonin and Vulcano isles. A fierce Japanese counterattack came but was a total failure: 499 irreplaceable aeroplanes —including 177 on the ground— were lost and only 49 enemy aircraft were destroyed.


    Admiral Andrew Mitscher

    On February 13th 1945, some 160 American warships sailed from Saipan. The Japanese were put under alert. Admiral Raymond Spruance’s V Fleet brought hell on Earth when its ships bombarded Iwo Jima with every gun —big and small— they had; thousands and thousands of shells rained over Iwo Jima for 15 entire days. It was believed that nothing could survive that bombardment.


    Admiral Raymond Spruance

    Finally, on February 19th 1945 D-day came and the combined force of rear admiral Kelly Turner boarded the landing crafts and headed towards Iwo Jima’s beaches. The attacking force was organised in the 3rd, 4th and 5th marine divisions under USMC lieutenant general Holland M. Smith. The H-hour came at 09.00 hours that day and 15 minutes later, the Japanese opened fire. Japanese hidden artillery destroyed many landing crafts before they reached the beach and even if the marines had the support of 1.500 aeroplanes and the entire fleet it turned very hard for them to advance; the Japanese positions were sighted when it was too late, by the flash of their guns. The second and third attack waves were blockaded and had to stay, crowded, at the beaches. The first wave could not go forward because of the heavy fire, vegetation, mine-fields, obstacles, bamboo-traps, etcetera.

    The 5th marine division had to capture and sweep mount Suribachi in the right flank of the island, while the 4th marine division took the air field in the very centre of the island, 800 metres inland.


    Rear admiral Richmond K. Turner


    Lieutenant general Holland M. Smith


    Admiral Raymond Spruance and lieutenant general Holland M. Smith

    The defenders, totalling 21.000 were under general Tadamichi Kuribayashi, an expert Japanese soldier, faithful to his duty and emperor. The Japanese had strong defensive positions and supplies for two and a half months, 120 guns of more than 75mm and 23 tanks —although these had very thin armour and a small gun. Kuribayashi’s forces were organised as follows:
    • 109th Infantry division.
    • 2nd Mixed division.
    • 145th Infantry regiment.
    • 17th Mixed regiment.
    • 26th Armoured regiment.
    • 1st and 2nd independent machine-gunner battalions.
    • 7.500 extra naval fusiliers.

    General Tadamishi Kuribayashi



    D-day. H-hour.

    Attached Files:

  2. Friedrich H

    Friedrich H Senior Member

    The Americans did not achieve their D-day objectives the first day though, because they were surprised by hardened defenders who they thought were buried and smashed by the heavy air and naval bombardment, but they performed well after all. By nightfall mount Suribachi was cut off from the rest of the island; the beach head was now 1.500 metres wide and some 30.000 men and some tanks with their supplies and equipment were ashore.

    The second day was even better for the invaders, because the first airstrip, ‘Midori’ was captured and the island, split in two. On February 21st reinforcement landings were made and many wounded were picked up. That morning, mount Suribachi’s garrison, which had fought fiercely and bravely in an orgy of blood was finally wiped out. The 5th marine division’s men watched how Japanese soldiers chose to blow themselves up with hand-grenades rather than being captured by the enemy. The attackers fell into holes with sharp bamboos in the bottom and they received bullets and grenades from holes in the ground, the rock and the rainforest. After many wounded and killed, the enemy bunkers and machine-gun nests were sighted and then swept with bayonets, blown up by hand-grenades or burnt by flame throwers. Some times, the Japanese felt the cold steel of American bayonets, other times were blown up by hand-grenades thrown by a daring enemy into their holes, some others were burnt alive by flame throwers and many other times, they retreated through the tunnels and took new positions in new holes and resumed the massacre. On February 21st, too, the fleet suffered suicide-attacks. The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Bismarck Sea was sunk and the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Saratoga was severely damaged.


    USS Bismarck Sea explodes after been hit by a Kamikaze.

    On February 23rd, a little squadron, leaded by I lieutenant Schreir reached the summit of mount Suribachi and flew a little US flag. On the next day, a larger flag was brought up to the summit and was raised with great efforts by four men who fought against the strong wind. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the image which was to become the most famous picture of WWII, a symbol of greatness and victory for the Americans. The large flag flew on the top of the dead-volcano, conquered at the cost of many souls, and not only strengthened the morale of all the men who were fighting in the island and could see it from the distance, but it too filled a nation and a cause with inspiration.


    The glory of Iwo Jima.



    The misery at Iwo Jima.


    Joe Rosenthal, the 'camera man'.

    On February 24th, after 76 minutes of heavy naval bombardment, the 5th division advanced some 500 metres at a great cost. Then the 3rd marine division was called as reinforcement and was deployed in the middle of the island, between 5th and 4th divisions. The 3rd attacked the next day at 09.30 hours, supported by flame-thrower tanks. On the 28th, it was able to capture the high terrain before the third airstrip. The second airstrip fell and a day later, the third one, partially-built. It was here where the hills denominated as 382 and 362A appeared and were baptised as the ‘meat grinder’. Mount Suribachi’s butchery scenes and even worse scenes took place again here. But finally, the 382 was captured by the Americans on March 1st and the attack against 362A hill was prepared. On March 2nd and 3rd the Americans attacked again and the Japanese responded with bloody night-raids that went very deep into the marines' rear. The hand-to-hand fighting lasted until March 8th. That day, the most dangerous Japanese counterattack of the battle took place; it stuck like a wedge between the American marine regiments 23rd and 24th, but cost the Japanese 650 casualties.

    By this time, general Kuribayashi had lost all his tanks, 65% of his officers and he had only 3.500 men left. The Japanese had lost the battle already and there was not a single man available to reinforce the garrison as in Guadalcanal times, and even if there would have been one, the overwhelming American naval and aerial superiority would not have allowed the Japanese to deploy these reinforcements. Kuribayashi ordered then a withdrawal to the north to defend the last part of the island. He and his men were willing to die defending Iwo Jima as they had been ordered and Kuribayashi himself expressed this in his last radio message, whose words were later transmitted to all the Japanese people: "I am going to die here".

    On March 13th he ordered to burn all the units’ flags and insignias, as honour symbols they were, they could not be captured by the enemy. 1.000 Japanese were left. By March 18th, only 800.

    On March 4th 1945, the first American B-29 bomber landed in one of Iwo Jima’s airstrips because of damages inflicted by Japanese fighters. On the 6th, a little squadrille of American P-51 ‘Mustang’ fighters also landed on the island. By early April their number had grown to 100. From there, Japan was within their incredible range of action and they were now able to escort the B-29s all the way to Japan. P-51s great quality and quantity swept away the remains of the Japanese air menace in the Pacific.

    On March 25th, 200 Japanese were still resisting at Kitano. That night, general Kuribayashi himself leaded the last bayonet charge against the marines, infiltrating deeply into the enemy’s rear. They were annihilated then and the island was declared ‘secure’.

    The island of Iwo Jima, of only 24 square kilometres, just an insignificant spot in the Pacific Ocean took the lives of 6.821 marines and 20.000 Japanese. Only 1.083 mortally wounded Japanese were taken as prisoners. The Americans had 19.217 men wounded and other 2.648 men were declared ‘not able for combat’ because of psychological problems caused by the inhuman battle. Holland M. Smith himself very well described the battle: "Iwo Jima was the hardest combat that the marines have faced in 168 years". Well, they still had to wait for Okinawa…






    Several Authors, "Enciclopedia de la II Guerra Mundial", X, Ed. Códex, Buenos Aires, 1967.

    McDonald, John, "Grandes batallas de la historia del mundo", V, Ed. Rombo, Barcelona, 1994.

    Shaw, Anthony, "World War II", Ed. Libsa, Madrid, 2001.

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