More about Iwo Jima . . .

By the spring of 1945, United States forces had won land and naval battles across the Pacific, compelling the Japanese forces to retrench in island groups close to Japan. By 1945, and at the cost of a great many lives on both sides of the conflict, the U.S. had taken Midway, Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Roi Namur, Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. The world’s largest air base was built on the Micronesian island of Tinian in late 1944 and the U.S. began a heavy bombing campaign against Japanese cities and military installations. The new B-29 bombers could barely make it the 1500 miles from Tinian to Japan and back. Damaged bombers and those that ran out of fuel had to ditch in the ocean, and many lives were lost.

The Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima offered a remedy: in American hands, it would provide a safe haven for damaged B29s to land. Japanese radar would also be knocked out. For the first time, the U.S. forces would breach the outer edge of the Japanese empire. On February 19, 1945, after 70 days of heavy naval bombardment, thousands of U.S. Marines from the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Divisions landed on Iwo Jima and entered one of the deadliest battlefields in the history of warfare.

For the first time in World War II, the Japanese had built such an extensive network of tunnels and underground bunkers that their army was able to wage war almost entirely from underground. The Marines found that they could not see their enemy, but that their enemy could clearly see them. There were heavy casualties on the landing beaches, but the Americans fought on and took Mt. Suribachi on the fourth day of fighting. The battle was to continue for 33 more days. When the fighting was finally over, 6,000 Marines and 20,000 Japanese soldiers were dead. U.S. forces had suffered 20,000 more casualties. Only 1,000 Japanese survived the battle.

The first damaged B-29s began to make emergency landings on Iwo even before the island was declared secure. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 air crew members’ lives were saved over time by the taking of Iwo Jima. The U.S. went on to invade Okinawa and prepare for an autumn 1945 land invasion of mainland Japan. The troops assigned to invade Japan were preparing to board ships in Honolulu when they got word that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had caused the Japanese to surrender unconditionally. The long and bitterly fought war, at last, was over.

Share This: