Battle of Iwo Jima (February 19 — March 26, 1945) was fundamental in the U.S. advance towards the final invasion of Japan and the Japanese used every method in their capability to stall this advance. This explains, to some degree, both the overwhelming casualties on both sides (it is the only battle in the Pacific war where the American casualties were larger than the Japanese
) and the ferocity of the battle. The battle is also interesting from a strategic and tactical perspective: other than the strategic role of the island in the Japanese approach to defense, the Japanese troops built a large network of underground tunnels and carried most of the fighting from there. Although the island was reasonably small and the Japanese numbered at most 20,000 troops, it took the U.S. more than a month to completely overcome the resistance, with all but 216 of the Japanese soldiers being killed
. This paper will aim to examine the background of the battle, some of the strategic and tactical approaches of the U.S. And Japanese troops and the aftermath and consequences of the island’s conquest and defeat of the Japanese in Iwo Jima.
As the U.S. troops progressed towards the Japanese archipelago, strategic locations such as the Caroline and the Mariana Islands gradually fell to the American troops throughout 1944. The island of Iwo Jima, part of the Ogasawara Archipelago, became part of what the Japanese perceives as a last line of defense before Japan itself would be invaded. The preparations that the Japanese troops undertook in the Ogasawaras, including in Iwo Jima, were emphasized by the evacuation of the entire population (close to 7,000 islanders
), the fortification of key points and the creation, on Iwo Jima, of a complex network of underground tunnels for the Japanese troops. The strategic importance that the Japanese leadership awarded to Iwo Jima should not be underestimated: while they were convinced that the island itself could not be saved, the delaying and guerilla-like tactic were supposed to inflict massive casualties on the American troops, lengthening the timeframe before the invasion of Japan and allowing the preparation of a home defense. To some degree, heavy battle over Iwo Jima was also supposed to deter the Americans from the planned invasion of Japan, in view of prospective casualties. This can be seen from the statements of Japanese officers themselves: “that in order to gain time necessary for the preparation of the Homeland defence, our forces should rely solely upon the established defensive equipment in that area, checking the enemy by delaying tactics.”
For the U.S. And allied troops, the island of Iwo Jima would provide the necessary support for a future attack on the Japanese mainland. At the same time, the island could prove an important strategic base for bombing campaigns of the main Japanese cities and industrial production centers. Finally, conquering the island of Iwo Jima would also eliminate existing Japanese troops defending the island and would ensure that the flanks and back of the U.S. advance would be protected.
The American invasion of the island was prepared beforehand by naval and aircraft artillery, as many as 100 bombers participating in the first round of attack
. However, as previously mentioned, the Japanese had worked through several months in order to get the defenses of the island organized. Most of these defenses were underground, including inside Mount Suribachi, on the southern tip of the island. As for the defenses above the ground, these had special protection against shelling and bombing. As a result, despite the heavy bombardment, there was little damage done to the Japanese defenses or troops.
The initial landing of Marines on the beach was met with overwhelming fire from the different Japanese defense fortifications on the beach and around Mount Suribachi. The Japanese had a delaying tactic, by which they waited for a large number of equipment and troops to be deployed on the beach before actually starting their machine gun and artillery attack. The extraordinary defenses that the Japanese had built, along with the difficult terrain, made it very difficult, initially, for the American troops to both advance through the Japanese lines and actually take a relevant toll on the Japanese army. The adaptation of the U.S. combat tactics to the Japanese approach included the use of grenades and flamethrowers, which both had an immediate and direct impact on the Japanese forces inside the underground fortifications. The result was that by the end of the first day, about 30,000 troops had been successfully landed, about 760 soldiers had advanced a considerable distance and the relevant Japanese area of defense around Mount Suribachi had been isolated from the rest of the troops
In the battle over the island, the Japanese leadership (general Kuribayashi and general Nishi) had given up on some of the traditional Japanese fighting, such as the banzai attacks, which were deemed useless in the face of overwhelming fire power of the U.S. troops. Instead, the Japanese successfully used guerilla and surprise tactics, along with the fortified system already mentioned. The latter meant that no position that the Americans gained could be secured until the entire perimeter had been cleared. This was because the Japanese soldiers could, at any time, use the underground network to attack from behind the American lines
. Attacks on the U.S. troops became common during the night, with significant casualties inflicted. While the southern part of the island, including Mount Suribachi, was conquered in the first part of the attack, Japanese defense of the island continued with ferocity in the northern part and around the Motoyama Plateau, where similar defenses had been built. In this area, it was not until March 21 that the American troops destroyed the remaining defense posts on the northern part of the island. On March 25, the remaining 300 Japanese soldiers launched the final assault of this campaign.
In the aftermath of the battle, the American troops had conquered an island that was relevant, as mentioned in the introduction, in the subsequent assault on Japan itself. In terms of supply logistics, the island could now be used as a refueling zone for bombers aiming at industrial and urban centers in Japan. Despite the heavy casualties and losses that the U.S. troops had incurred, all Japanese defenses, including radar equipment, which could have an impact on the protection of the lines behind the front and on the final objective of defeating Japan had, been eliminated.
Finally, the symbolism of the battle cannot be overlooked. Other than the famous image of the U.S. Marines raising the American flag over the island, the battle for Iwo Jima showed the American determination in achieving the final victory. At the same time, it also showed the enormous casualties and losses that this incurred and the result of the Battle of Iwo Jima were most likely factored in when the final decision to launch the atomic bomb was made.
1. Lewis, Adrian R., the American Culture of War. The History of U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom. (New York 2007, p. 59)
2. Burrell, Robert S. The Ghosts of Iwo Jima. (TAMU Press; First Edition, 2006, p. 83)
3. Ogasawaras’ mixed identity. Kyodo News. August 2008. On the Internet at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20080821f1.html. Last retrieved on July 8, 2010
4. Garand, George W; Strobridge Truman R.. History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II. (Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1971).
5. Allen, Robert E. The First Battalion of the 28th Marines on Iwo Jima: A Day-by-Day History from Personal Accounts and Official Reports, with Complete Muster Rolls. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2004)
6. Leckie, Robert. Delivered from Evil. (Harper & Row, 1987, New York, p870)
Lewis, Adrian R., the American Culture of War. The History of U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom. (New York 2007, p. 59)
Burrell, Robert S. The Ghosts of Iwo Jima. (TAMU Press; First Edition, 2006, p. 83)
Ogasawaras’ mixed identity. Kyodo News. August 2008. On the Internet at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20080821f1.html. Last retrieved on July 8, 2010
Garand, George W; Strobridge Truman R.. History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II. (Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1971).
Allen, Robert E. The First Battalion of the 28th Marines on Iwo Jima: A Day-by-Day History from Personal Accounts and Official Reports, with Complete Muster Rolls. (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2004)
Leckie, Robert. Delivered from Evil. (Harper & Row, 1987, New York, p870)
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