On this day, in 1945, at 0859 hours, the first wave of USMC infantry landed on the beaches of an island most Americans had never heard of. The military planners of the United States had decided that Iwo Jima had to be neutralized as an enemy base and an airstrip built on the island.
Iwo Jima was a base for Japanese fighter planes that intercepted the B-29 bombers that were targeting industrial sites on the home islands of Japan.
The airstrip was needed as an emergency landing field for damaged planes and a forward medical aid station for injured fliers.
At this point in the war, the Japanese were on defense, desperately trying to stop the Allied forces from reaching the home islands. Their strategy was to make taking each island so expensive in human and financial costs that the Allies would sue for peace short of invading Japan. This strategy would be repeated in April when the United States invaded Okinawa.
The Japanese built deep and interlocking tunnels through out the island and stayed deep inside them during the pre landing bombardment and the initial landings. When the Marines started to advance inland, the Japanese started to attack from the caves and spider holes.
The fighting that followed during the five weeks before the island was secured was nothing short of savage. Five days after the initial landings, the Marines captured Mount Suribachi. A photo taken that day is perhaps the most famous of World War II.
There was still a month of fighting left. Of the six men pictured in the photo, three died in combat on the island.
Even after Suribachi was captured, the fighting continued until March 26th. Of the approximately 21,000 Japanese soldiers on the island, 216 were captured. Another 3,000 escaped initial capture, but died or surrender after major action had ended.
Of the approximately 60,000 Marines and Sailors who landed on the beach 6,800 died and 19,200 were wounded. It was one of the costliest battles in World War II.
Twenty Seven Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines and Sailors who fought on Iwo Jima. Twenty Seven. Of those Twenty Seven, Fourteen were awarded posthumously.
Once the island was secure, Army Air Force fighters were able to escort B-29s bombing Japan and the island served as an emergency landing strip.
In retrospect, some people question whether the results were worth the battle.
Of course, it’s always easy to look back and question decisions made at times of war. It’s much harder to make those decisions when the war is going on and the people deciding don’t know everything that future historians will.
For more on the Battle for Iwo Jima, click on the link.