The war would only last a few more months, but nobody knew it then.
“Iwo Jima, which means Sulfur Island, was strategically important as an air base for fighter escorts supporting long-range bombing missions against mainland Japan. Because of the distance between mainland Japan and U.S. bases in the Mariana Islands, the capture of Iwo Jima would provide an emergency landing strip for crippled B-29s returning from bombing runs. The seizure of Iwo would allow for sea and air blockades, the ability to conduct intensive air bombardment and to destroy the enemy’s air and naval capabilities.” (NHHC)
After many days of aerial bombing and three days of Naval bombardment, Marines from the 5th Amphibious Corps (4th and 5th Marine Divisions) assaulted the eastern shores of the north-south oriented island (the 3rd Division came in on day five). Resistance at the beach was relatively light, but the fighting got more intense as the Marines pushed inland. Japanese used miles of caves and connecting tunnels to harass the Americans as they methodically took control of the island.
The raising of the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi in the southern tip of the island took place on February 23, four days after the invasion. It would take another month before the rest of the island was secure.
Almost immediately after the airstrip was in American hands, it was used to launch fighter support for bombing raids against Japan. And in validation of one of the primary goals of the invasion, it was also used as a landing strip for crippled bombers. According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, “By war’s end, 2,400 B-29 bombers carrying 27,000 crewmen made unscheduled landings on the island.”
6800 Americans were killed during month long battle (roughly the same number of U.S. deaths in OEF and OIF combined), and almost 20,000 Japanese were dead (only 1083 prisoners survived, many of them Koreans who had been used as slave labor by the Japanese). Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded for the fight to take Iwo Jima.
The Veterans of Iwo Jima are heroes, and we honor them this week.
“The battle of Iwo Island has been won. The United States Marines by their individual and collective courage have conquered a base which is as necessary to us in our continuing forward movement toward final victory as it was vital to the enemy in staving off ultimate defeat.
By their victory, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and other units of the Fifth Amphibious Corps have made an accounting to their country which only history will be able to value fully. Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
(U.S. Senate photo)
Two excellent websites to visit:
The Naval History and Heritage Command’s “Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945”
DOD’s interactive site, “The Battle for Iwo Jima“