The Battle of Iwo Jima (19 February – 26 March 1945) was a major battle in which the United States Marine Corps and Navy landed on and eventually captured the island of Iwo Jima from the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) during World War II. The American invasion, designated Operation Detachment, had the goal of capturing the entire island, including the three Japanese-controlled airfields (including the South Field and the Central Field), to provide a staging area for attacks on the Japanese main islands. This five-week battle comprised some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of the Pacific War of World War II.
After the heavy losses incurred in the battle, the strategic value of the island became controversial. It was useless to the U.S. Army as a staging base and useless to the U.S. Navy as a fleet base. However, Navy Seabees rebuilt the landing strips, which were used as emergency landing strips for USAAF B-29s.
The IJA positions on the island were heavily fortified, with a dense network of bunkers, hidden artillery positions, and 18 km (11 mi) of tunnels. The American ground forces were supported by extensive naval artillery, and had complete air supremacy provided by U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aviators throughout the battle.
Japanese combat deaths numbered three times the number of American deaths although, uniquely among Pacific War Marine battles, American total casualties (dead and wounded) exceeded those of the Japanese. Of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima at the beginning of the battle, only 216 were taken prisoner, some of whom were captured because they had been knocked unconscious or otherwise disabled. The majority of the remainder were killed in action, although it has been estimated that as many as 3,000 continued to resist within the various cave systems for many days afterwards, eventually succumbing to their injuries or surrendering weeks later.
Despite the bloody fighting and severe casualties on both sides, the American victory was assured from the start. Overwhelming American superiority in numbers and arms as well as complete air supremacy—coupled with the impossibility of Japanese retreat or reinforcement, along with sparse food and supplies—permitted no plausible circumstance in which the Americans could have lost the battle.
Joe Rosenthal’s Associated Press photograph of the raising of the U.S. flag on top of the 169 m (554 ft) Mount Suribachi by six U.S. Marines became an iconic image of the battle and the American war effort in the Pacific
Japanese staff officers described the strategy that was used 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 Island [Jima] toward ultimate victory, it was decided that 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.
— Japanese Monograph No. 48
Marine Corps Historical Company wrote about the first day:
“This Day in Marine Corps History. 19 February 1945: At 08:59, one minute ahead of schedule, the first of an eventual 30,000 Marines of the 3rd Marine Division, the 4th Marine Division, and the new 5th Marine Division, making up the V Amphibious Corps, landed on Iwo Jima.”
“The initial wave did not come under Japanese fire for some time, as General Kuribayashi’s plan was to wait until the beach was full of the Marines and their equipment. By the evening, the mountain had been cut off from the rest of the island, and 30,000 Marines had landed. About 40,000 more would follow.”
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