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Taking shelter on Iwo Jima
Taking shelter on Iwo Jima
Battle of Iwo Jima
The Battle of Iwo Jima: How This Iconic Photograph Was Captured
Key point: This photograph is in textbooks all across America. But the flag was not raised exactly that way as it happened in real life.
Atop 550-foot Suribachi Yama, the volcano at the southwest tip of Iwo Jima, Marines of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Regiment, 5th Division, hoist the Stars and Stripes, signaling the capture of this key position.
Photographer Joe Rosenthal’s “photo of U.S. Marines raising the Stars and Stripes on the summit of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima” is certainly the most famous photographic artifact to emerge from World War II, if not of all time. When it was first published, this galvanizing photo had an immediate effect both on the home front and in the upper echelons of military leadership.
During the more than 50 years that have elapsed since the photo was taken, it has remained a crucial artifact of military history, it has served to educate the public, and it has been used to tremendous propaganda effect by the Marine Corps. This picture was the culmination of four years of hit-and-miss combat correspondence in the Pacific. The fact that photographer Joe Rosenthal had access to the battlefield is only due to certain specific differences in the way the battle of Iwo Jima was reported, and it set a standard for the future.
However, the truth that is presented in this photograph and the facts behind the flag-raising do not match perfectly. This is why the picture is an excellent starting point for the analysis of war correspondence as a genre but just as important, it can be used to illustrate the potential for great differences between reality and public perception.
The High Cost of War in the South Pacific
The war against Japan was marked by an island-hopping campaign begun deep in the South Pacific that worked its way up through the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, through the coral islands of the Central Pacific, such as Tarawa and Peleliu. As the war’s end approached, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.S. troops in the South Pacific, was driving the U.S. Army north through the Philippines, while the Marines continued their campaign through the Marianas, finally reaching Iwo Jima and Okinawa, both considered Japanese Home Islands.
The Pacific campaigns are remembered for the great distances between engagements the amphibious nature of the battles, with troops landing on heavily defended beaches the gradual reduction of Japanese fortifications and heavy casualties. The war in the Pacific was very expensive, both in terms of manpower and logistics. For some Americans, it seemed senseless to be at war in the Pacific, fighting for useless coral atolls. Why not devote 100 percent of the effort to Europe? After the bloody Tarawa battle in late 1943, when a thousand Marines died trying to take a two-mile-long island, it was decided that a more aggressive correspondence strategy had to be developed to preserve support for the war in the Pacific among the American people.The problems facing the information services were rather drastic in the Pacific. Of course, the sheer remoteness of the campaigns was a primary factor. Most battles were conducted in areas a week or more sailing distance from Hawaii, and aircraft at the time were relatively short-ranged. After the battering received at Pearl Harbor, followed by the fall of Wake Island, the Philippines, and Guam to the Japanese, most war reports were geared toward raising morale rather than preparing the public for war.
The general system worked out for communication between front-line correspondents and the rear was convoluted at best. The correspondent on the beach would make notes, go back out to a command ship, and type up the story. The typed copy was usually loaded aboard a hospital plane evacuating the wounded and taken to Navy press headquarters at Pearl Harbor. Every dispatch was heavily censored, and it was not uncommon for a story to be lost, cut, or sometimes simply to be old news before it had a chance to be printed. At Tarawa, for example, the battle was over before the first “on the scene” radio broadcasts made it Stateside. During the invasion of Saipan, it took eight days for photographs of the landings to reach San Francisco.
Challenging the American Public’s Perceptions of War
Of course, time delay was by no means the only source of tension between the press, the public, and the military. As the war in the Pacific heated up, the American public and the military had a serious morale problem. In order to bolster the public perception of the American war machine, war reporting was heavily propaganda-driven. To correspondent Robert Sherrod, a good deal of the problem revolved around the use of “vivid verbs,” with a small bombing raid being presented as a rain of destruction on Japan, or an impression that “any American could lick 20 Japs.” Although the stories made good reading, they did not have much bearing on reality. Said one soldier to Sherrod: “The war that is being written in the newspapers must be a different war from the one we see.” Civilians, in many cases, just had no idea of the immensity of the effort that would be required to win the war, and the ultimate price that would have to be paid in blood and men.
In order to change public perception regarding the true nature of the war, and in preparation for the invasion of Japan, for which Allied planners were forecasting up to a million casualties, a more aggressive system of combat correspondence was worked out. “It is the express desire of the Navy Department that a more aggressive policy be pursued with regard to press, magazine, radio, and photographic coverage of military activities in the Pacific Ocean Areas,” a Navy document read.
There were to be civilian as well as military correspondents at battles, subject to less censorship and allowed to publish more graphic photos. Turnaround time between a correspondent’s filing of a story and its publication in the States was to be shortened. By the time of the Iwo Jima invasion in February 1945, war correspondence in the Pacific was a completely different undertaking than it had been at the beginning of the war. There were more than a hundred correspondents present, both civilian and military. Live radio broadcasts were now possible from the beachhead, and there were five special landing craft whose only functions were to land and remove reporters and haul off film and copy. Dispatches were passed by a censor, teletyped to Guam, and then relayed to the mainland by shortwave radio. Daily, a Navy airplane would pick up still and newsreel film and fly it straight to Hawaii for processing and distribution. With this system in place, the groundwork was laid for one of the most famous photographs in history.
Five days into the conflict, Iwo Jima was cut in half. In the south, Marines were in the final stages of reducing the Japanese defenses on Mount Suribachi, while Japanese defenders still controlled most of the north. Casualties thus far had been distressingly high, and there was no easy end to the battle in sight.
“The Uproar Almost Shook the Sky”
An early-morning patrol showed that there was no visible resistance on the mountain peak, so it was decided to send a patrol to the summit to plant a flag. Visible across the island, the patrol reached the top of the mountain, and as Louis Lowery, a photographer for Leatherneck magazine, took pictures, the Stars and Stripes, attached to a long pipe found in the rubble at the top of Suribachi, was raised over Iwo Jima. Six men raised the flag, and across the island Marines cheered and ships’ horns blared. In the words of Coast Guard sailor Chet Hack: “Talk about patriotism. The uproar almost shook the sky.” Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal declared, “This means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years.” Little did he know how much the future of the Corps and the flag on top of the peak would be interwoven. This is the flag-raising that meant the most to the Marines. They would later openly deride the iconoclastic image of the second flag- raising, the one that means so much to the public. To Colonel Chandler Johnson, whose troops had placed the flag, it had one immediate implication: “Some son of a bitch is going to want that flag, but he’s not going to get it. That’s our flag. Better find another one and get it up there, and bring back ours.”
As a second patrol, equipped with a much larger 56-by 96-inch flag liberated from a landing ship, headed up the slopes of Suribachi, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, along with two enlisted Marine photographers, tagged along. Originally set up for a shot of the first flag going down as the second went up, Rosenthal was unable to get that picture, so he snapped a photo only of the second flag going up. The six men in the famous photo are indistinguishable. No rank or unit insignias are visible, and each man is similarly clothed in combat jacket, helmet, and dungarees. The flag is still partially furled, although it seems that just as the picture was taken, the wind was catching it and stretching it out. Were it not for the twisted bits of wood, metal, and shattered rock at their feet, one might never know that this picture was taken in a combat zone. Technically speaking, it could be considered a bad photograph, as there are no visible faces and the viewer can barely tell how many men are involved with raising the flag. There was no identification of the men Rosenthal did not have a chance to document that at the time. It took weeks for names to be put with the individuals pictured, by which time some of them had been injured or killed.
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After the American capture of the Marshall Islands and the devastating air attacks against the Japanese fortress island of Truk Atoll in the Carolines in January 1944, the Japanese military leaders reevaluated their situation. All indications pointed to an American drive toward the Mariana Islands and the Carolines. To counter such an offensive, the IJA and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) established an inner line of defenses extending generally northward from the Carolines to the Marianas and then to Japan via the Volcano Islands and westward from the Marianas via the Carolines and the Palau Islands to the Philippines.
In March 1944, the Japanese 31st Army, commanded by General Hideyoshi Obata, was activated to garrison this inner line. (Note that a Japanese army was about the size of an American, British Army, or Canadian Army corps. The Japanese Army had many armies, but the US Army had only ten at its peak, with the 4th Army, the 6th Army, the 8th Army, and the 10th Army being in the Pacific Theater. Also, the 10th Army fought on Okinawa only in the spring of 1945.)
The commander of the Japanese garrison on Chichi Jima was placed nominally in command of Army and Navy units in the Volcano Islands.  After the American conquest of the Marianas, daily bomber raids from the Marianas hit the mainland as part of Operation Scavenger. Iwo Jima served as an early warning station that radioed reports of incoming bombers back to mainland Japan. That allowed Japanese air defenses to prepare for the arrival of the American bombers. 
After the U.S. seized bases in the Marshall Islands in the Battles of Kwajalein and Eniwetok in February 1944, Japanese Army and Navy reinforcements were sent to Iwo Jima: 500 men from the naval base at Yokosuka and 500 from Chichi Jima reached Iwo Jima during March and April 1944. At the same time, with reinforcements arriving from Chichi Jima and the home islands, the army garrison on Iwo Jima reached a strength of more than 5,000 men.  The loss of the Marianas during the summer of 1944 greatly increased the importance of the Volcano Islands for the Japanese, who were afraid that the loss of those islands would facilitate American air raids against the Home Islands, disrupt war manufacturing, and severely damage civilian morale. 
The final Japanese plans for the defense of the Volcano Islands were overshadowed by several factors:
- The navy had already lost almost all of its power, and it could not prevent American landings.
- Aircraft losses in 1944 had been so heavy that even if war production were not affected by American air attacks, the combined Japanese air strength was not expected to increase to 3,000 warplanes until March or April 1945.
- Those aircraft could not be used from bases in the Home Islands against Iwo Jima because their range was not more than 900 km (560 mi).
- The available warplanes had to be hoarded to defend Taiwan and the Japanese Home Islands from any attack. 
- There was a serious shortage of properly trained and experienced pilots and other aircrew to man the warplanes that Japan had because such large numbers of pilots and crewmen had perished fighting over the Solomon Islands and during the Battle of the Philippine Sea in mid-1944.
In a postwar study, Japanese staff officers described the strategy 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. 
At the end of the Battle of Leyte in the Philippines, the Allies were left with a two-month lull in their offensive operations before the planned invasion of Okinawa. Iwo Jima was considered strategically important since it provided an air base for Japanese fighter planes to intercept long-range B-29 Superfortress bombers. In addition, it was used by the Japanese to stage nuisance air attacks on the Mariana Islands from November 1944 to January 1945. The capture of Iwo Jima would eliminate those problems. The base would be available for P-51 Mustang fighters to escort and protect the bombers. 
American intelligence sources were confident that Iwo Jima would fall in one week. In light of the optimistic intelligence reports, the decision was made to invade Iwo Jima, and the operation was codenamed Operation Detachment.  American forces failed to anticipate that the Japanese would prepare a complex and deep defense, much like on Peleliu in the fall of 1944. So successful was the Japanese preparation that it was discovered after the battle that the hundreds of tons of Allied bombs and thousands of rounds of heavy naval gunfire had left the Japanese defenders almost undamaged and ready to inflict losses on the U.S. Marines.
Japanese preparations Edit
By June 1944, Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi was assigned to command the defense of Iwo Jima. Kuribayashi knew that Japan could not win the battle, but he hoped to inflict massive casualties on the American forces so that the United States and its Australian and British allies would reconsider carrying out their invasion of Japan Home Islands.
While drawing inspiration from the defense in the Battle of Peleliu, Kuribayashi designed a defense that broke with Japanese military doctrine. Rather than establishing his defenses on the beach to face the landings directly, he created strong mutually-supporting defenses in depth by using static and heavy weapons such as heavy machine guns and artillery. Takeichi Nishi's armored tanks were to be used as camouflaged artillery positions. Because the tunnel linking the mountain to the main forces was never completed, Kuribayashi organized the southern area of the island in and around Mount Suribachi as a semi-independent sector, with his main defensive zone built up in the north. The expected American naval and air bombardment further prompted the creation of an extensive system of tunnels that connected the prepared positions so that a pillbox that had been cleared could be reoccupied. This network of bunkers and pillboxes favored the defense. For instance, the Nano Bunker (Southern Area Islands Naval Air HQ), which was east of Airfield Number 2, had enough food, water, and ammunition for the Japanese to hold out for three months. The bunker was 90 feet deep and had tunnels running in various directions. Approximately five hundred 55-gallon drums filled with water, kerosene, and fuel oil for generators were inside the complex. Gasoline-powered generators allowed for radios and lighting to be operated underground. 
By 19 February 1945, when the Americans invaded, 18 kilometres (11 mi) of a planned 27 kilometres (17 mi) of tunnel network had been dug. Besides the Nanpo Bunker, there were numerous command centers and barracks that were 75 feet deep. Tunnels allowed for troop movement to go undetected to various defense positions. 
Hundreds of hidden artillery and mortar positions along with land mines were placed all over the island. Among the Japanese weapons were 320 mm spigot mortars and a variety of explosive rockets. 
Nonetheless, the Japanese supply was inadequate. Troops were supplied 60% of the standard issue of ammunition sufficient for one engagement by one division and food and forage for four months. 
Numerous Japanese snipers and camouflaged machine gun positions were also set up. Kuribayashi specially engineered the defenses so that every part of Iwo Jima was subject to Japanese defensive fire. He also received a handful of kamikaze pilots to use against the enemy fleet [ citation needed ] their attacks during the battle killed 318 American sailors. However, against his wishes, Kuribayashi's superiors on Honshu ordered him to erect some beach defenses. [ citation needed ]
American preparations Edit
Well, this will be easy. The Japanese will surrender Iwo Jima without a fight.
Starting on 15 June 1944, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army Air Forces began naval bombardments and air raids against Iwo Jima, which would become the longest and most intense in the Pacific Theater.  They would contain a combination of naval artillery shellings and aerial bombings that went on for nine months. On 17 February, the destroyer escort USS Blessman sent Underwater Demolition Team 15 (UDT-15) toward Blue Beach for reconnaissance. The Japanese infantry fired on them, which killed one American diver. On the evening of 18 February, the Blessman was hit by a bomb from a Japanese aircraft, killing 40 sailors, including 15 members of her UDT.
Unaware of Kuribayashi's tunnel defense system, many of the Americans assumed the most of the Japanese garrison had been killed by the constant bombing raids.
Pre-landing bombardment Edit
Maj. Gen. Harry Schmidt, commander of the Marine landing force, requested a 10-day heavy shelling of the island immediately preceding the mid-February amphibious assault. However, Rear Adm. William H. P. Blandy, commander of the Amphibious Support Force (Task Force 52), did not believe such a bombardment would allow him time to replenish his ships' ammunition before the landings he thus refused Schmidt's request. Schmidt then asked for nine days of shelling Blandy again refused and agreed to a three-day bombardment. This decision left much hard feelings among the Marines. After the war, Lieut. Gen. Holland M. "Howlin' Mad" Smith, commander Expeditionary Troops (Task Force 56, which consisted of Schmidt's Fifth Amphibious Corps), bitterly complained that the lack of naval gunfire had cost Marine lives during the entire Allied island campaign. 
Each heavy warship was given an area on which to fire that, combined with all the ships, covered the entire island. Each warship fired for approximately six hours before stopping for a certain amount of time. Poor weather on D minus 3 led to uncertain results for that day's bombardment. On D minus 2, the time and care that the Japanese had taken in preparing their artillery positions became clear. When heavy cruiser USS Pensacola got within range of shore batteries, the ship was quickly hit 6 times and suffered 17 crew deaths. Later, 12 small craft attempting to land an underwater demolition team were all struck by Japanese rounds and quickly retired. While aiding these vessels, the destroyer USS Leutze was also hit and suffered 7 crew deaths. On D minus 1, Adm. Blandy's gunners were once again hampered by rain and clouds. Gen. Schmidt summed up his feelings by saying, "We only got about 13 hours worth of fire support during the 34 hours of available daylight." 
The limited bombardment had questionable impact on the enemy due to the Japanese being heavily dug-in and fortified. The craters left behind by the barrage also provided additional cover for the defenders, while hampering the attackers' advance. [ original research? ] However, many bunkers and caves were destroyed during the bombing, giving it some limited success. The Japanese had been preparing for this battle since March 1944, which gave them a significant head start.  By the time of the landing, about 450 American ships were located off Iwo Jima. The entire battle involved about 60,000 U.S. Marines and several thousand U.S. Navy Seabees. 
American order of battle Edit
- Joint Expeditionary Force (Task Force 51) – Vice Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner in amphibious command ship Eldorado
- Amphibious Support Force (Task Force 52) – Rear Adm. William H.P. Blandy in amphibious command ship Estes
- Attack Force (Task Force 53) – Rear Adm. Harry W. Hill in amphibious command ship Auburn
Expeditionary Troops (Task Force 56)
Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, USMC
- Chief of Staff: Col. Dudley S. Brown, USMC
- Personnel officer (G-1): Col. Russell N. Jordahl, USMC
- Intelligence officer (G-2): Col. Edmond J. Buckley, USMC
- Operations officer (G-3): Col. Kenneth H. Weir, USMC
- Logistics officer (G-4): Col. George R. Rowan, USMC
- Chief of Staff: Brig. Gen. William W. Rogers, USMC
- Personnel officer (G-1): Col. David A. Stafford, USMC
- Intelligence officer (G-2): Col. Thomas R. Yancey, USA
- Operations officer (G-3): Col. Edward A. Craig, USMC
- Logistics officer (G-4): Col. William F. Brown, USMC
- 8th Marine Field Depot (shore party command): Col. Leland S. Swindler : Col. Vernon E. Megee
- 62nd Seabees
Southern sector (Green and Red beaches):
- 5th Marine Division (25,884 officers and enlisted)
- Division Commander: Maj. Gen. Keller E. Rockey
- Assistant Division Commander: Brig. Gen. Leo D. Hermle
- Chief of Staff: Col. Ray A. Robinson
- Personnel officer (G-1): Col. John W. Beckett
- Intelligence officer (G-2): Lt. Col. George A. Roll
- Operations officer (G-3): Col. James F. Shaw Jr.
- Logistics officer (G-4): Col. Earl S. Piper
- : Col. Chester B. Graham : Col. Thomas A. Wornham : Col. Harry B. Liversedge : Col. James D. Waller
- 5th Tank Battalion: Lt. Col. William R. Collins
- 5th Marine Shore Party Regiment (5th Marine Pioneers and 31st Seabees)
- 4th Marine Division (24,452 officers and enlisted)
- Division Commander: Maj. Gen. Clifton B. Cates
- Assistant Division Commander: Brig. Gen. Franklin A. Hart
- Chief of Staff: Col. Merton J. Batchelder
- Personnel officer (G-1): Col. Orin H. Wheeler
- Intelligence officer (G-2): Lt. Col. Gooderham L. McCormick
- Operations officer (G-3): Col. Edwin A. Pollock
- Logistics officer (G-4): Col. Matthew C. Horner
- : Col. Walter W. Wensinger : Col. Walter I. Jordan : Col. John R. Lanigan : Col. Louis G. DeHaven
- 4TH Marine Pioneers and 133rd Seabees (shore party)
- 3rd Marine Division (19,597 officers and enlisted)
- Division Commander: Maj. Gen. Graves B. Erskine
- Assistant Division Commander: Brig. Gen. William A. Worton
- Chief of Staff: Col. Robert E. Hogaboom
- Personnel officer (G-1): Maj. Irving R. Kriendler
- Intelligence officer (G-2): Lt. Col. Howard J. Turton
- Operations officer (G-3): Col. Arthur H. Butler
- Logistics officer (G-4): Col. James D. Hittle
- (Floating reserve): Col. James A. Stuart : Col. Howard N. Kenyon : Col. Hartnoll J. Withers : Lt.Col. Raymond F. Crist Jr.
- 145th Infantry Regiment
- 17th Mixed Infantry Regiment
- 26th Tank Regiment
- 2nd Mixed Brigade
- 125th Anti-Aircraft Defense Unit
- 132nd Anti-Aircraft Defense Unit
- 141st Anti-Aircraft Defense Unit
- 149th Anti-Aircraft Defense Unit
Japanese order of battle Edit
21,060 total men under arms
Lieut. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, commanding
Colonel Tadashi Takaishi, chief of staff
Amphibious landing Edit
During the night, Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher's Task Force 58, a huge carrier force, arrived off Iwo Jima. Also in this flotilla was Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, overall commander for the invasion, in his flagship, the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis. "Howlin' Mad" Smith was once again deeply frustrated that Mitscher's powerful carrier group had been bombing the Japanese home islands instead of softening up the defenses of Iwo Jima. Mitscher's fliers did contribute to the additional surface-ship bombardment that accompanied the formation of the amphibious craft. 
Unlike the days of the pre-landing bombardment, D-Day dawned clear and bright.  At 08:59, one minute ahead of schedule, the first wave of Marines landed on the beaches of the southeastern coast of Iwo Jima. Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock during the first two days of the battle. These six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error. Connor later stated, "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima." 
Situation on the beaches Edit
Unfortunately for the landing force, the planners at Pearl Harbor had completely misjudged the situation that would face Gen. Schmidt's Marines. The beaches had been described as "excellent" and the thrust inland was expected to be "easy." In reality, after crossing the beach, the Marines were faced with 15-foot-high (4.6 m) slopes of soft black volcanic ash.  This ash allowed for neither a secure footing nor the construction of foxholes to protect the Marines from hostile fire. However, the ash did help to absorb some of the fragments from Japanese artillery. 
Marines were trained to move rapidly forward here they could only plod. The weight and amount of equipment was a terrific hindrance and various items were rapidly discarded. First to go was the gas mask . 
The lack of a vigorous response led the Navy to conclude that their bombardment had suppressed the Japanese defenses and in good order the Marines began deployment to the Iwo Jima beach.  Gen. Kuribayashi was far from beaten, however. In the deathly silence, landed US Marines began to slowly inch their way forward inland, oblivious to the danger. After allowing the Americans to pile up men and machinery on the beach for just over an hour, Kuribayashi unleashed the undiminished force of his countermeasures. Shortly after 10:00, everything from machine guns and mortars to heavy artillery began to rain down on the crowded beach, which was quickly transformed into a nightmarish bloodbath. 
At first it came as a ragged rattle of machine-gun bullets, growing gradually lower and fiercer until at last all the pent-up fury of a hundred hurricanes seemed to be breaking upon the heads of the Americans. Shells screeched and crashed, every hummock spat automatic fire and the very soft soil underfoot erupted underfoot with hundreds of exploding land mines . Marines walking erect crumpled and fell. Concussion lifted them and slammed them down, or tore them apart . 
Time-Life correspondent Robert Sherrod described it simply as "a nightmare in hell." 
The Japanese heavy artillery in Mount Suribachi opened their reinforced steel doors to fire, and then closed them immediately to prevent counterfire from the Marines and naval gunners. This made it difficult for American units to destroy a Japanese artillery piece.  To make matters worse for the Americans, the bunkers were connected to the elaborate tunnel system so that bunkers that were cleared with flamethrowers and grenades were reoccupied shortly afterwards by Japanese troops moving through the tunnels. This tactic caused many casualties among the Marines, as they walked past the reoccupied bunkers without expecting to suddenly take fresh fire from them. 
Moving off the beaches Edit
Amtracs, unable to do more than uselessly churn the black ash, made no progress up the slopes their Marine passengers had to dismount and slog forward on foot.  Men of the Naval Construction Battalions 31 and 133, braving enemy fire, eventually were able to bulldoze roads off the beach. This allowed the Marines and equipment to finally make some progress inland and get off the jam-packed beaches. "Even so, in virtually every shell hole there lay at least one dead Marine . " 
By 11:30, some Marines had managed to reach the southern tip of Airfield No. 1, whose possession had been one of the (highly unrealistic) original American objectives for the first day. The Marines endured a fanatical 100-man charge by the Japanese, but were able to keep their toehold on Airfield No. 1 as night fell. 
Crossing the island Edit
In the left-most sector, the Americans did manage to achieve one of their objectives for the battle that day. Led by Col. Harry B. "Harry the Horse" Liversedge, the 28th Marines drove across the island at its narrowest width, around 800 metres (870 yd), thereby isolating the Japanese dug in on Mount Suribachi.
Action on the right flank Edit
The right-most landing area was dominated by Japanese positions at the Quarry. The 25th Marine Regiment undertook a two-pronged attack to silence these guns. Their experience can be summarized by the ordeal of 2nd Lt. Benjamin Roselle, part of a ground team directing naval gunfire:
Within a minute a mortar shell exploded among the group . his left foot and ankle hung from his leg, held on by a ribbon of flesh . Within minutes a second round landed near him and fragments tore into his other leg. For nearly an hour he wondered where the next shell would land. He was soon to find out as a shell burst almost on top of him, wounding him for the third time in the shoulder. Almost at once another explosion bounced him several feet into the air and hot shards ripped into both thighs . as he lifted his arm to look at his watch a mortar shell exploded only feet away and blasted the watch from his wrist and tore a large jagged hole in his forearm: "I was beginning to know what it must be like to be crucified," he was later to say. 
The 25th Marines' 3rd Battalion had landed approximately 900 men in the morning. Japanese resistance at the Quarry was so fierce that by nightfall only 150 Marines were left in fighting condition, an 83.3% casualty rate. 
By the evening, 30,000 Marines had landed. About 40,000 more would follow.  Aboard the command ship Eldorado, "Howlin' Mad" Smith saw the lengthy casualty reports and heard of the slow progress of the ground forces. To the war correspondents covering the operation he confessed, "I don't know who he is, but the Japanese general running this show is one smart bastard." 
In the days after the landings, the Marines expected the usual Japanese banzai charge during the night. This had been the standard Japanese final defense strategy in previous battles against enemy ground forces in the Pacific, such as during the Battle of Saipan. In those attacks, for which the Marines were prepared, the majority of the Japanese attackers had been killed and the Japanese strength greatly reduced. However, General Kuribayashi had strictly forbidden these "human wave" attacks by the Japanese infantrymen because he considered them to be futile. 
The fighting on the beachhead at Iwo Jima was very fierce. The advance of the Marines was stalled by numerous defensive positions augmented by artillery pieces. There, the Marines were ambushed by Japanese troops who occasionally sprang out of tunnels. At night, the Japanese left their defenses under cover of darkness to attack American foxholes, but U.S. Navy ships fired star shells to deny them the cover of darkness. On Iwo Jima (and other Japanese held islands), Japanese soldiers who knew English were used to harass and or deceive Marines in order to kill them if they could they would yell "corpsman" pretending to be a wounded Marine, in order to lure in U.S. Navy hospital corpsmen attached to Marine infantry companies. 
The Marines learned that firearms were relatively ineffective against the Japanese defenders and effectively used flamethrowers and grenades to flush out Japanese troops in the tunnels. One of the technological innovations of the battle, the eight Sherman M4A3R3 medium tanks equipped with a flamethrower ("Ronson" or "Zippo" tanks), proved very effective at clearing Japanese positions. The Shermans were difficult to disable, such that defenders were often compelled to assault them in the open, where they would fall victim to the superior numbers of Marines. 
Close air support was initially provided by fighters from escort carriers off the coast. This shifted over to the 15th Fighter Group, flying P-51 Mustangs, after they arrived on the island on 6 March. Similarly, illumination rounds (flares) which were used to light up the battlefield at night were initially provided by ships, shifting over later to landing force artillery. Navajo code talkers were part of the American ground communications, along with walkie-talkies and SCR-610 backpack radio sets. 
After running out of water, food and most supplies, the Japanese troops became desperate toward the end of the battle. Kuribayashi, who had argued against banzai attacks at the start of the battle, realized that defeat was imminent.
Marines began to face increasing numbers of nighttime attacks these were only repelled by a combination of machine-gun defensive positions and artillery support. At times, the Marines engaged in hand-to-hand fighting to repel the Japanese attacks.  With the landing area secure, more troops and heavy equipment came ashore, and the invasion proceeded north to capture the airfields and the remainder of the island. Most Japanese soldiers fought to the death. 
Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima is a black and white photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal depicting six Marines from E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, raising a U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi on 23 February 1945,  which was the second of two flag-raisings on the site that day. The photograph was extremely popular, being reprinted in thousands of publications. Later, it became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication, and ultimately came to be regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images of the war, and possibly the most reproduced photograph of all time.  The flag raising picture was later used by Felix de Weldon to sculpt the Marine Corps War Memorial which is located adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery since 1954. 
Three of the six Marines depicted in the photograph, Sergeant Michael Strank, Corporal Harlon Block, and Private First Class Franklin Sousley, were killed in action days after the flag-raising. Surviving flag-raiser Private First Class Ira Hayes, together with Private First Class Rene Gagnon and Navy hospital corpsman Pharmacist's Mate Second Class John Bradley, became celebrities upon their participation in a war bond selling tour after the battle three subsequent Marine Corps investigations into the identities of the six men in the photograph determined: in 1946 and 1947, that Harlon Block was incorrectly identified as Henry Hansen (both were killed six days after the photo was taken), in May and June 2016, that John Bradley was not in the photograph and Private First Class Harold Schultz was,  and in 2019, that Rene Gagnon was not in the photograph and Private First Class Harold Keller was. 
By the morning of 23 February, Mount Suribachi was effectively cut off above ground from the rest of the island. The Marines knew that the Japanese defenders had an extensive network of below-ground defenses, and that in spite of its isolation above ground, the volcano was still connected to Japanese defenders via the tunnel network. They expected a fierce fight for the summit. Two small patrols from two rifle companies from the 2/28 Marines were sent up the volcano to reconnoiter routes on the mountain's north face. The recon patrols made it to the summit and scrambled down again, reporting any contact to the 2/28 Marines commander, Lieutenant Colonel Chandler W. Johnson. 
Popular accounts embroidered by the press in the aftermath of the release of the photo of the flag raising, had the Marines fighting all the way up to the summit. Although the Marine riflemen expected an ambush, the larger patrol going up afterwards encountered a few Japanese defenders once on top and after the flag was raised. The majority of the Japanese troops stayed in the tunnel network due to U.S. shelling, only occasionally attacking in small groups, and were generally all killed. Johnson called for a reinforced platoon size patrol from E Company to climb Suribachi and seize and occupy the crest. The patrol commander, 1st Lt. Harold Schrier, was handed the battalion's American flag to be raised on top to signal Suribachi's capture, if they reached the summit. Johnson and the Marines anticipated heavy fighting, but the patrol encountered only a small amount of sniper fire on the way up the mountain. Once the top was secured by Schrier and his men, a length of Japanese water pipe was found there among the wreckage, and the American flag was attached to the pipe and then raised and planted on top of Mount Suribachi which became the first foreign flag to fly on Japanese soil.  Photographs of the flag and some of the patrol members around it were taken by Marine photographer Louis R. Lowery, the only photographer who had accompanied Lt. Schrier's patrol up the mountain.
As the flag went up, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal had just landed on the beach at the foot of Mount Suribachi and decided that he wanted the flag as a souvenir. Colonel Johnson, the battalion's commander, believed that the flag belonged to the 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, who had captured that section of the island. In the early afternoon, Johnson sent Pfc. Rene Gagnon, a runner (messenger) from his battalion for E Company, to take a larger flag up the volcano to replace the smaller and less visible flag. The replacement flag was attached to another and heavier section of water pipe and six Marines proceeded to raise it into place as the smaller flag was taken down and delivered to the battalion's headquarters down below. It was during this second flag-raising that Joseph Rosenthal took his exceptionally famous photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. The second flag flew on Mount Suribachi until it was taken down on 14 March, when at the same time an American flag was officially raised up a flagpole during a ceremony at the V Amphibious Corps command post near Mount Suribachi which was ordered by Lt. Gen. Holland Smith the commander of all the troops on Iwo Jima. Major General Graves B. Erskine, the commander of the 3rd Marine Division was also at the event with other troops of the division.
Despite Japan's loss of Mount Suribachi on the south end of the island, the Japanese still held strong positions on the north end. The rocky terrain vastly favored defense, even more so than Mount Suribachi, which was much easier to hit with naval artillery fire. Coupled with this, the fortifications constructed by Kuribayashi were more impressive than at the southern end of the island.  Remaining under the command of Kuribayashi was the equivalent of eight infantry battalions, a tank regiment, and two artillery and three heavy mortar battalions. There were also about 5,000 gunners and naval infantry. The most arduous task left to the Marines was the overtaking of the Motoyama Plateau with its distinctive Hill 382 and Turkey knob and the area in between referred to as the Amphitheater. This formed the basis of what came to be known as the "meatgrinder". While this was being achieved on the right flank, the left was clearing out Hill 362 with just as much difficulty. The overall objective at this point was to take control of Airfield No. 2 in the center of the island. However, every "penetration seemed to become a disaster" as "units were raked from the flanks, chewed up, and sometimes wiped out. Tanks were destroyed by interlocking fire or were hoisted into the air on the spouting fireballs of buried mines".  As a result, the fighting bogged down, with American casualties piling up. Even capturing these points was not a solution to the problem since a previously secured position could be attacked from the rear by the use of the tunnels and hidden pillboxes. As such, it was said that "they could take these heights at will, and then regret it". 
The Marines nevertheless found ways to prevail under the circumstances. It was observed that during bombardments, the Japanese would hide their guns and themselves in the caves only to reappear when the troops would advance and lay devastating fire on them. The Japanese had over time learned basic American tactics, which was to lay heavy bombardment before an infantry attack. Consequently, General Erskine ordered the 9th Marine Regiment to attack under the cover of darkness with no preliminary barrage. This came to be a resounding success with many Japanese soldiers killed while still asleep. This was a key moment in the capture of Hill 362.  It held such importance that the Japanese organized a counterattack the following night. Although Kuribayashi had forbidden the suicide charges familiar with other battles in the Pacific, the commander of the area decided on a banzai charge with the optimistic goal of recapturing Mount Suribachi. On the evening of 8 March, Captain Samaji Inouye and his 1,000 men charged the American lines, inflicting 347 casualties (90 deaths). The Marines counted 784 dead Japanese soldiers the next day.  The same day, elements of the 3rd Marine Division reached the northern coast of the island, splitting Kuribayashi's defenses in two.  There was also a kamikaze air attack (the only one of the battle) on the ships anchored at sea on 21 February, which resulted in the sinking of the escort carrier USS Bismarck Sea, severe damage to USS Saratoga, and slight damage to the escort carrier USS Lunga Point, an LST, and a transport. 
Although the island was declared secure at 18:00 on 16 March (25 days after the landings), the 5th Marine Division still faced Kuribayashi's stronghold in a gorge 640 m (700 yd) long at the northwestern end of the island. On 21 March, the Marines destroyed the command post in the gorge with four tons of explosives and on 24 March, Marines sealed the remaining caves at the northern tip of the island.  However, on the night of 25 March, a 300-man Japanese force launched a final counterattack in the vicinity of Airfield No. 2. Army pilots, Seabees, and Marines of the 5th Pioneer Battalion and 28th Marines fought the Japanese force for up to 90 minutes, suffering heavy casualties (53 killed, 120 wounded). [ citation needed ] Although still a matter of speculation because of conflicting accounts from surviving Japanese veterans, it has been said that Kuribayashi led this final assault,  which unlike the loud banzai charge of previous battles, was characterized as a silent attack. If ever proven true, Kuribayashi would have been the highest ranking Japanese officer to have personally led an attack during World War II. [ citation needed ] Additionally, this would also be Kuribayashi's final act, a departure from the normal practice of the commanding Japanese officers committing seppuku behind the lines while the rest perished in the banzai charge, as happened during the battles of Saipan and Okinawa. The island was officially declared secure at 09:00 on 26 March. [ citation needed ]
Once the island was officially declared secure, the Army's 147th Infantry Regiment was ostensibly there to act as a garrison force, but they soon found themselves locked in a bitter struggle against thousands of stalwart defenders engaging in a last-ditch guerrilla campaign to harass the Americans.  Using well-supplied caves and tunnel systems, the Japanese resisted American advances. For three months, the 147th slogged across the island, using flamethrowers, grenades, and satchel charges to dig out the enemy, killing some 1,602 Japanese soldiers in small unit actions.  : 39
The United States M2 flamethrower was heavily used in the Pacific. It features two tanks containing fuel and compressed gas respectively, which are combined and ignited to produce a stream of flaming liquid out of the tip. 
These flamethrowers were used to kill Japanese holed into pillboxes, buildings and caves. A battalion would assign one flamethrower per platoon with one reserve flamethrower in each group. Flamethrower operators were usually in more danger than regular troops as the short range of their weapon required close combat, and the visibility of the flames on the battlefield made them a prominent target for snipers. Still they were essential to breaking the enemy and one battalion commander called the flamethrowing tanks the "best single weapon of the operation." 
Prior to the Saipan the Marine Corps had left flamethrowing tank development to the Army. They had placed an order with the Army for nine tanks per Division. At Schofield Barracks Col. Unmachts Top secret "Flame Thrower Group" located eight M4A3 Sherman medium tanks to convert for Operation Detachment. His Seabees, from the 117th CB, worked to combine the best elements from three different flame units: the Ronson, the Navy model I and the Navy Mk-1.  That first model was quickly superseded by the far better CB-H2.  The US Army Chemical Corps variously identified these tanks as POA-CWS-H1,  (Pacific Ocean Area-Chemical Warfare Section-Hawaii) CWS-POA-H2, CWS-POA-H1 H2, OR CWS-"75"-H1 H2 mechanized flamethrowers. US Marine and US Army observer documents from Iwo Jima refer to them as the CB-Mk-1 or CB-H1.  Marines on the lines simply called them the Mark I.  The official USMC designation was "M4 A3R5".  The Japanese referred to them as M1 tanks and it is speculated that they did so due to a poor translation of "MH-1".  On Iwo Jima the flame tanks all landed D-day and went into action on D+2, sparingly at first. As the battle progressed, portable flame units sustained casualty rates up to 92%, leaving few troops trained to use the weapon. More and more calls came for the Mark-1s to the point that the Marines became dependent upon the tanks and would hold up their assault until a flame tank was available.  Since each tank battalion had only four they were not assigned. Rather, they were "pooled" and would dispatch from their respective refueling locations as the battle progressed. Towards the end of the battle, 5th Marine tanks used from 5,000 to 10,000 US gal (19,000 to 38,000 L) per day.  The Marines said that the flamethrowing tanks were the single best weapon they had in taking the island and that they were the only thing the Japanese feared.
The last of these holdouts on the island, two of Lieutenant Toshihiko Ohno's men, Yamakage Kufuku ( 山蔭光福 , Yamakage Koufuku) and Matsudo Linsoki ( 松戸利喜夫 , Matsudo Rikio) , lasted four years without being caught and finally surrendered on 6 January 1949.   
Though ultimately victorious, the American victory at Iwo Jima had come at a terrible price. According to the official Navy Department Library website, "The 36-day (Iwo Jima) assault resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead."  By comparison, the much larger scale 82-day Battle of Okinawa lasting from early April until mid-June 1945 (involving five U.S. Army and two Marine Corps divisions) resulted in over 62,000 U.S. casualties, of whom over 12,000 were killed or missing. Iwo Jima was also the only U.S. Marine battle where the American casualties exceeded the Japanese,  although Japanese combat deaths numbered three times as many as American deaths. Two US Marines were captured during the battle, neither of whom survived their captivity. The USS Bismarck Sea was also lost, the last U.S. aircraft carrier sunk in World War II.  Because all civilians had been evacuated, there were no civilian casualties at Iwo Jima, unlike at Saipan and Okinawa. 
Foreground 3rd USMC Division Cemetery left background is 4th USMC Division Cemetery Iwo Jima.
Worth the Cost? Justificaton of the Iwo Jima Invasion
On the morning of February 19, 1945, James Vedder, combat surgeon for the 27th Regiment, 5th Marine Division, waited for his landing craft to touch the volcanic sands of Iwo Jima, the island that would serve as the doctor’s first test in combat. Undoubtedly anxious, he could at least console himself with the thought that planners expected only a two-day offensive, with a third day dedicated to mopping up enemy resistance.
U.S. commanders predicted that the assault force of 80,000 combat-hardened marines could rapidly traverse the island neutralized from bombardment, either destroying the Japanese in their defensive positions or mowing them down in waves if they launched desperate banzai attacks. The navy had originally scheduled these same three divisions for use in the Okinawa invasion just 30 days later, demonstrating that it did not consider the operation very difficult, at least initially.
At 0830 battleships, cruisers, and destroyers leveled their guns on the beachhead of Iwo Jima and blasted the landscape with a massive bombardment. The violent explosions ashore quickly shrouded the visible topography of the island in smoke and debris.
Little did Vedder know that U.S. commanders had seriously underestimated the defenses on Iwo Jima, incorrectly assumed Japanese defensive strategy, and overrated the effects of American technological and numerical superiority. The men of the Japanese 109th Infantry Division, in their meticulously designed fortifications, were poised to skillfully defend Sulfur Island (the literal translation of the Japanese name “Iwo Jima”) from the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine divisions, resulting in the most appalling battle of the Pacific War.
With a bare 20 months of military experience, Dr. Vedder was about to face 33 days of the most horrific carnage imaginable as American boys and amphibious veterans fed the meat-grinder on Iwo Jima. Vedder hit the beach just minutes behind the first waves of troops, attempting to exercise compassion in hell.
Peacetime forgets that wartime’s accounts of misery, destruction, and death can be amazingly direct, detailed, and diverse. On the lunar landscape of Iwo Jima, Vedder treated wounds that mangled faces, shattered jaws, and split skulls wide open. He frequently attempted to care for American boys with missing limbs, wounds so devastating that no healing was possible. He witnessed marines and sailors dying most violently from artillery and mortar rounds, as well as from unexpectedly precise Japanese marksmanship.
He looked after sanitation aspects of hundreds of decomposing corpses. The same insects that infested the dead infiltrated the eyes, ears, and nostrils of the living or worse, they contaminated food for human consumption. In all this horror, his job became almost routine, allowing for humor or even brief moments of happiness. However, in a 220-page narrative dedicated to the battle, combat surgeon Vedder made no mention of an American flag raised on top of Mount Suribachi. Perhaps that omission constitutes the most important evidence of all.
Nearly everyone has heard of Iwo Jima and recognizes the monumental icon of U.S. servicemen raising the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi in 1945. The general public understands that this image symbolizes patriotism and valor, even though the picturesque scene greatly minimizes the miserable experience of the combatants. Operation Detachment (the code name for the U.S. war plan to invade Iwo Jima) was the largest U.S. Marine Corps operation ever conducted. It cost the lives of over 25,000 Americans and Japanese.
However, most people do not realize that, tragically, the decision of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to seize Iwo Jima cost thousands of American lives for an objective that never fulfilled its intended purposes—a truth that historians have not addressed for over 60 years. The valuable lessons of Iwo Jima lie covered and dormant, buried under myth and legend.
A more detailed look at the planning for Iwo Jima demonstrates that the service rivalry resulting from the dual advance of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army in the Pacific heavily influenced the decision to initiate Operation Detachment. Rather than waiting for the army to complete its seizure of the Philippines in 1944 and release the ground forces needed to invade Formosa, the navy made a hasty change in plans to seize Okinawa instead and thereby continue its northward advance.
Although Okinawa satisfied the navy’s purposes, the objective of seizing Iwo Jima actually derived from U.S. Army Air Forces strategy. The intent was to safeguard the B-29 Superfortresses by providing fighter escort support from Iwo Jima.
Combining the objectives of Okinawa and Iwo Jima ensured approval by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This alliance between the navy, which was seeking to outflank the army, and the Army Air Forces, which wanted to prove the case for strategic bombing in order to create an independent postwar air service, satisfied their respective interests. However, the U.S. Marine Corps, which paid by far the heaviest price for carrying out Operation Detachment, remained excluded from the decision-making process. When fighter operations from Iwo Jima failed, the military sought additional reasons to justify the costly battle, and historians have perpetuated these illusions.
Combat on Iwo Jima was perhaps the most brutal, tragic, and costly in American history. Scholars have never yet sufficiently addressed the strategic decisions and ensuing justifications for Iwo Jima.
The major weakness in the conduct of the Pacific War was in the inability of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to unify the efforts of the army and navy. Consequently, the army, navy, and Army Air Forces conducted separate and competing campaigns against Japan. Operation Detachment derived from Army Air Forces strategy, brought about by the need to improve disappointing B-29 operations, in an atmosphere of fierce competition, and with the fear of losing potential autonomy. At the cost of thousands of lives, Operation Detachment provided an air base of questionable value, with a price that neither the public nor the military could swallow.
Almost every book, journal article, encyclopedia entry, and Web site that addresses the battle justifies the nearly seven thousand American dead with the “emergency landing” theory. Essentially, the theory argues that 2,251 B-29 Superfortresses landed on Iwo Jima and each carried eleven crewmen accordingly, Operation Detachment saved the lives of 24,761 Americans.
However, the emergency landing theory does not stand up to scrutiny. The absurdity of the claim demonstrates the extent to which the battle has been misunderstood. Rather than saving the lives of U.S. airmen, Operation Detachment may have actually detracted from the U.S. war efforts to defeat Japan. If we view the Pacific War through the lens of Iwo Jima, its most important lessons may emerge.
Fourteen costly days after the marines landed on Iwo Jima, engineers from the 2nd Separate Engineer Battalion and the 62nd Naval Construction Battalion were working busily to repair Airfield No 1. Japanese and Americans still fought fiercely along the forward edge of the battle area, and there remained a constant threat of indirect fire to the marines on the airstrip. A few observation planes had utilized Iwo Jima since late March. Consequently, a short wooden control tower had been constructed on the airfield, just large enough to hoist a single marine observer 20 feet above the airfield. In the aftermath of March 4, Airfield No. 1 received an unanticipated message from one of the naval support ships. Apparently, a B-29 had run short of fuel, was headed toward Iwo, and planned to land.
The predicament must have excited the ground crew. There was no time to coordinate a cease-fire of artillery or naval gunfire the silhouette of the B-29 could be seen making a slow approach on the Pacific horizon. “Clear the airfield” is the shout that may have gone out to construction crews.
These veterans, accustomed to impromptu commands, likely scrambled to remove equipment and personnel. The massive Superfortress came onward at what must have seemed a snail’s pace to the airmen, drawing Japanese antiaircraft fire. It continued forward and touched down on the airstrip. Marines and sailors watched in amazement as the enormous flying battleship slowed to a stop.
One marine combat correspondent described what went through his mind as the B-29 landed: “Like a giant bird, it set down on Motoyama Airfield Number One…. The B-29 landed on hallowed ground, volcanic ash surfaced with hard clay which recently had soaked in the blood of American Marines…. These Leathernecks from your and my hometowns made it possible for the B-29 to land here. Now, those lads are buried in the shadow of Mount Suribachi, where Old Glory flies from the crest, proclaiming to all that American Marines conquered the Japs who held the formidable volcano fortress.”
When that first B-29 touched down on Iwo Jima, troops on the ground could not contain their enthusiasm. They left their covered positions to surround the bomber en masse, making for a famous photograph. The Americans on Iwo Jima deemed there was much to celebrate in this seemingly trivial event.
These men longed to understand the purpose behind the past two weeks of vicious combat. Amid the chaos of death and destruction, the Superfort had suddenly landed directly in front of them. In the first days of the battle, men argued whether the island would have any lasting military significance, but the appearance of the B-29 quelled all that. By the end of hostilities, 36 Superforts had landed on Iwo Jima.
The euphoria surrounding these events had an immediate impact on the high commands of the Army Air Forces, navy, and Marine Corps. The media also publicized the B-29 landings, giving rise to legends. As the flag being raised on Suribachi assumed heroic proportions, so did the romanticism justifying the need for Iwo Jima.
The Bonin Islands certainly had strategic relevance. They lay in a direct path of bombing raids against Tokyo. B-29 crews from the Marianas flew 14 hours at a time without a friendly airfield between Tinian and Honshu. The confinement of American airstrips to Tinian, Guam, and Saipan somewhat restricted air rescue operations to the areas near the Marianas. In the chain of islands extending from the Marianas to mainland Japan (the Nanpo-Shoto), the Japanese had already built airfields on several islands. The Bonin Islands offered one of the most suitable sites for constructing a forward air base.
Yet, despite the benefits of having Iwo Jima in American hands, there were at least six other islands in the Nanpo-Shoto under consideration by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. By December 1944, it was quite apparent that seizing Sulfur Island would prove difficult. In weighing the necessity of the battle, one must determine whether Operation Detachment accomplished its designed purpose, whether there were alternative ways to accomplish the same goals, and what impact the seizure of Iwo Jima would have on future operations.
Part of the difficulty in probing the reasons given for Operation Detachment is that the sources are inconsistent. In the strategy approved by the Joint War Planners, the justifications for the Bonin Islands operation were:
a. Providing fighter cover for the application of our air effort against Japan.
b. Denying these strategic outposts to the enemy.
c. Furnishing air defense bases for our positions in the Marianas.
d. Providing fields for staging heavy bombers (B-24 Liberators) against Japan.
e. Precipitating a decisive naval engagement.
After the battle, both Fleet Adm. Ernest J. King and General of the Army George C. Marshall continued to maintain that Iwo Jima provided essential fighter cover for Superforts, but they began shifting emphasis to the B-29 landings on Iwo Jima. In Marshall’s report to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, he stated, “Iwo fields saved hundreds of battle-damaged B-29s, unable to make the full return flight to their bases in the Marianas, 800 miles farther to the south.” King argued that significantly more B-29s would have been shot down over Japan “had Iwo Jima not been available for emergency landings.” He estimated that “the lives [that would have been] lost at sea through this latter factor alone…exceeded the lives lost in the capture itself.”
Other sources have offered additional justifications for taking Iwo Jima. An Army Air Forces publication stated that air-sea rescue units based on the island critically promoted the rescue of downed aircrews. Adm. Raymond A. Spruance pointed out that taking Iwo Jima removed a Japanese early-warning system for Superfortress bombing raids. Maj. Gen. Haywood S. Hansell Jr., commanding general of the 21st Bomber Command, stated that securing the island improved the morale of his pilots. The official Army Air Forces history claimed that B-29s needed to run a dogleg course around the Bonins because of the threat of Japanese fighters stationed on Iwo Jima. Over the years, scholars have accepted many of these arguments.
Many of these arguments were first raised after the battle concluded: Iwo Jima provided a base for air-sea rescue operations, the invasion stopped Japanese fighters from the island from intercepting B-29 flights, and the island was useful as an emergency landing site. However, the principal reason for seizing Iwo Jima originated from plans to use it as a fighter base to escort B-29s bombing Japan. Before the invasion, the navy maintained this line of reasoning, both through the military chain of command and in the press.
This was the only reason Admiral King mentioned for capturing the island in his proposal to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On February 16, three days before the landing, Vice Adm. Richmond K. Turner stated at a press conference that the primary reason for capturing Iwo Jima was to provide “fighter cover for the operations of the B-29s which are based here in the Marianas.” Neither King nor Turner made any mention of B-29s landing on Iwo Jima.
After the invasion, the Army Air Forces rotated the 45th, 46th, 72nd, 78th, 531st, 548th, and 549th Fighter squadrons from the VII Fighter Command on the island this included at one time more than a hundred P-51 Mustang fighters. Just the limited number of fighters in comparison to nearly a thousand B-29s in the Marianas made escorting most bombing missions impossible in the face of extensive operations.
However, the limited number of fighters was the least of VII Fighter Command’s problems. Primarily, these derived from the long distance to the objectives, the mechanical limitations of the P-51s, and harsh weather conditions over the Pacific Ocean. The single VHF radio in each fighter had a range of 150 miles in line-of-sight circumstances. The navigation systems on the P-51, consisting of a compass, an air speed indicator, and a clock, proved grossly inadequate for the 1,500-mile trips over the Pacific. Ironically, the P-51s depended on the B-29s to escort them to and from targets.
In March 1945, when VII Fighter Command attempted practice runs from Iwo Jima to Saipan, it quickly realized that the P-51 was not adequately designed for the long trip over the Pacific (unfortunately, the Army Air Forces could not carry out these practice flights until after the island was captured). The cramped, cold, unpressurized cockpit of the P-51 made the nine-hour round trip over ocean waters difficult for the pilots. Moreover, unlike the Superfortresses, the Mustangs often could not withstand the harsh weather. Storms caused many of the planes to crash.
The VII Fighter Command attempted to escort Superforts in early April but soon realized its task was not feasible. The command flew only three escort missions—on April 7, 12, and 14—before terminating escort efforts. Therefore, the Army Air Forces barely used Iwo Jima for the purpose that led to the invasion.
Was Iwo Jima needed, or was it duplication of effort? Okinawa, for instance, had the capacity to provide dozens of airfields for land-based fighters, and did so. Range limitations did not allow Okinawa-based fighters to travel to Japan, but VII Fighter Command had difficulty covering that distance from Iwo Jima.
More important, carrier-based fighters routinely hit targets on Japan. By the end of 1945, the United States had produced an unprecedented 30 aircraft carriers and 82 escort carriers, the largest assembly of naval air power in world history. Carriers from the Pacific Fleet could launch fighter escort for B-29s and recover at much shorter and safer distances than the 1,500-mile trip from Iwo Jima. One heavy carrier could launch about as many airplanes as the P-51s stationed on Iwo Jima. It seems irrational to think that the airfields on Iwo, with poor logistics because of no port facility, could provide air support that carriers could not.
Initially, when the B-29s began operations in November 1944, the navy agreed to give carrier-based fighter support to the Army Air Forces. Because navy air power was tied up in other operations that month, the proposal eventually fell through. The Army Air Forces decided to go in alone rather than wait for navy fighter support. The concept of joint aerial operations never again materialized. Increased cooperation would have proven more beneficial than relying on P-51s stationed on Iwo Jima.
Ironically, the need for fighter escort had already become questionable before the battle for Iwo Jima reached its climax. In early March, Army Air Forces Gen. Curtis LeMay switched from the usual B-29 tactic of high-altitude precision daylight bombing to low-altitude night firebombing raids against Japan. According to General Hansell, this increased bomb loads since “in daylight the force had to fly in formation and operate at high altitude to defend itself against Japanese fighters,” restricting tonnage.
Japan’s night air defenses offered feeble, ineffective resistance. LeMay was more concerned about damage from friendly fire than from Japanese air defenses. Consequently, he stripped the B-29s of their protective machine guns and gunners, making room for larger payloads. Only later did the general reinstall a portion of the B-29 defensive systems, and this was simply to boost morale.
Initially, LeMay worried that bombing runs at 5,000 feet would increase Superfortress losses, but the results surpassed his expectations. Not only did the firebombing destroy the desired targets but the devastation gutted large portions of Japanese cities, killing thousands of people. With the new bombing techniques, the fighter cover stationed at Iwo Jima became largely irrelevant.
P-51s stationed at Iwo Jima did serve in other capacities. B-29s guided fighters to Japanese airfields in Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, and Tokyo from April through August 1945. Most missions took place in June and July, when weather was favorable. However, by the time VII Fighter Command’s operations picked up, the Americans had already crushed Japanese air power. Brig. Gen. Ernest Moore, who headed VII Fighter Command, lamented the lack of opposition, stating: “I hope [Japanese fighters] will at least give us a little competition, because it is not very encouraging to fly that far in hopes of combat and not get it.”
During early operations from April through June, P-51s flew 832 sorties, but the Army Air Forces only considered 374 successful. The VII Fighter Command claimed that it destroyed 74 enemy planes and damaged another 180 on the ground. The results were meager at best. In the words of the Army Air Forces historian, “the total P-51 effort was not very fruitful.” A more recent Air Force study found the contribution of VII Fighter Command superfluous.
Denying the Bonin Islands to the Japanese was another reason given for Operation Detachment. In 1945 the Japanese airfields on Iwo Jima constituted a threat, but U.S. forces bypassed many islands with similar airfields as they moved toward Japan. The foremost example of a bypassed enemy stronghold was the island of Truk in the Caroline Archipelago, southeast of Guam. Truk boasted major Japanese air and naval bases. Initially, the Joint Chiefs of Staff designated Truk as a primary U.S. objective.
However, after consideration, the chiefs determined that the cost of seizing Truk outweighed its usefulness (or perhaps there were not enough forces available to pursue that course). The Army Air Forces and navy successfully neutralized the island with frequent aerial bombardments and a naval blockade.
In a similar manner, the Joint Staff Planners determined in 1943 that the Bonin Islands could be neutralized and were not worth the cost of seizing them. Neutralizing the Bonins, incidentally, did not require seizing Iwo Jima.
Military strategists also sought to reduce the threat of enemy air attacks on the Marianas. The Japanese had launched several air attacks on Saipan, using planes that probably refueled in the Bonin Islands. However, these attacks came infrequently and were only marginally effective.
From early November 1944 through early January 1945, the Japanese launched only seven attacks. They destroyed 11 B-29s and did substantial damage to another 8. The Americans destroyed 37 Japanese fighters in the process. When the XXI Bomber Command stepped up bombing missions on Iwo Jima in January, the attacks ceased. Essentially, the damage caused to the Iwo airfields and related facilities through aerial and surface bombardment, combined with the growing shortage of Japanese planes, pilots, and fuel, ensured that airstrips on Iwo Jima from that point had little offensive usefulness for Japan.
Considering the circumstances, the Japanese could not afford sustained losses in fuel, planes, and pilots against long-range targets in the Marianas. They would only risk a handful for flights to Iwo Jima. Army Air Forces records indicate that the average number of enemy planes sighted on the island from January through early February was only 13, and those planes were likely running last-minute supplies to Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s ground forces.
Even if the Japanese could have continued attacks against Saipan or Tinian by refueling at Iwo Jima, further actions would not have proven successful. Daylight raids gave the Americans easy warning, and the Japanese fighters had poor night-fighting capability. As had been the case at Pearl Harbor, air attacks on the Marianas demonstrated the Japanese ability to utilize daring and surprise against an overconfident enemy. Once the Japanese lost this element of surprise, further raids became inconsequential. In a letter to his commanding officer, Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, in November, General Hansell said that the Japanese preferred to attack under a full moon, exactly what the Japanese continued to do through early January.
Not only did Hansell predict the periods of attack but he also understood Japan’s current air tactics and prepared the XXI Bomber Command to meet the threat. Even the Army Air Forces’ history concluded: “Japanese raids against B-29 bases, though troublesome, were not important enough alone to have justified the cost of capturing Iwo Jima.”
By 1945, Iwo Jima had little offensive relevance to the Japanese. In the words of Japanese officers: “Our first line Army and Naval air forces had been exhausted in the recent Philippines Operation. The anticipation to restore our air forces, bringing their combined number to 3,000 planes, could materialize only by March or April and even then, mainly because the types of airplanes and their performance proved to be impracticable for operations extending beyond 550 miles radius, we could not use them for operations in the Bonin Islands area.”
The Japanese wanted to defend Sulfur Island to deny its use to the Americans. General Kuribayashi considered destroying the island through demolitions, to sink it into the sea or cut the central portion in half, to severely damage the airfields. Although Kuribayashi’s ideas about destroying Iwo Jima may have been whimsical, he considered the island more of a liability than an asset. When the continued maintenance of the Motoyama airfields detracted from his defense construction efforts, an irritated Kuribayashi sent the following communiqué to Tokyo: “We must avoid constructing hopeless airfield.”
In American hands, Iwo Jima did provide an intermediate airfield for staging bombing missions against Japan. B-29s could extend their range and slightly increase their payloads by refueling there. However, the vast majority of Marianas-based B-29s never used Iwo Jima for this purpose. Quite simply, the B-29s could hit nearly every desired target within the range already provided by bases in the Mariana Islands.
Furthermore, landing at Iwo Jima to slightly increase payloads was not pivotal. The XXI Bomber Command dropped so many bombs under LeMay’s direction that it ran short of incineration ordnance. The Army Air Forces had little need to increase payloads with a time-consuming stop at Iwo Jima. Additionally, the size of many sorties—over 500 planes at times—made a stopover at Iwo Jima difficult, if not impossible. To complicate matters, all supplies and materiel had to be unloaded at Iwo Jima without a port. This made getting fuel and ammunition onto Sulfur Island dangerous and unproductive. Some missions used the island as a staging area, and doing so improved bombing efficiency, but the staging area did not provide critical aid to the war effort.
U.S. planners initially anticipated that an assault on the Bonins could force the Japanese navy out of hiding and precipitate the decisive naval engagement the U.S. Navy had long desired. However, the naval situation changed during the planning for Operation Detachment. In late October 1944, the Japanese and American navies clashed at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The American navy destroyed the majority of Japanese capital ships in the series of engagements that followed. Precipitating a decisive naval engagement by attacking the Bonins then became a moot point.
Long after the invasion, Admiral Spruance reasoned that capturing Iwo Jima deprived the enemy of an early warning location. However, Iwo Jima was only one among several islands in the Nanpo-Shoto chain that could radio the mainland about incoming air raids. Seizing one island did not negate Japan’s warning capabilities on the others.
The Japanese-held island of Rota, lying roughly midway between Guam and Tinian, provided an excellent example of the Japanese early warning system. Less than 50 miles from either island, the garrison on Rota actively collected and transmitted intelligence information on U.S. bombing missions. The Joint Chiefs of Staff knew of these capabilities yet never found it necessary to invade Rota.
Admiral Spruance’s 1945 after-action report to Admirals Chester W. Nimitz and Ernest J. King stated only one requisite for Operation Detachment: “to operate with greatest effectiveness and with minimum attrition, fighter cover for the long range bombers was required at the earliest practicable time.” Yet when interviewed for his 1974 biography, Spruance argued that the battle was necessary to stop Iwo Jima’s advance-warning system—specifically, its radar facility. Regardless of how he arrived at this conclusion, Iwo Jima’s radar facility, with its range of around 60 miles, did not impede B-29 operations.
In fact, the most effective way the Japanese could predict a U.S. raid did not come from radar but through intercepting American radio messages. This widely practiced method gave Japan four to five hours’ advance notice of an impending attack, about two to three hours earlier than could have been relayed by the radar on Iwo Jima picking up the bombers in flight. One historian succinctly stated the ineffectiveness of such countermeasures:
For the Japanese, even this margin (five hours) was not of much help—partly because the information, though timely, was too general. Unless they could pinpoint the target of a raid, the fighter commanders were reluctant to send their planes aloft fuel was in such short supply that every drop was precious. Confirmation from radar and other elements of the system was necessary to complete the warning cycle and justify scrambling planes. As the B-29 raiders bore down on the islands, however, the limitations of Japanese communications facilities combined with geography to put the defense seriously behind schedule.
Even if the primitive radar on distant Iwo Jima alerted Japan of incoming raids, the garrison could not pinpoint the American targets. Consequently, the Japanese failed to intercept the majority of these missions. The radar on Iwo Jima became even less significant in March, when the weakness of Japanese night air defenses prompted General LeMay to take the drastic measure of stripping defensive machine guns from B-29s to increase the weight of their payloads. With Japanese air defenses already so ineffective, shutting down the radar facility on Iwo Jima did not warrant invasion.
Army Air Forces General Hansell claimed that one of the primary benefits of Operation Detachment was to improve B-29 pilot morale. When crews from the XXI Bomber Command began their first flights in November, they did so in planes in which they had little experience. Pilots flew over 3,000 miles round-trip in some of the harshest weather conditions on the globe. Aircrews attempted precision bombing at high altitudes over cloud cover. The results were not very successful.
Gen. Hap Arnold worried that continued failures would jeopardize his autonomous command of the Army Air Forces. Consequently, he exerted tremendous pressure on the XXI Bomber Command to perform, sacking Hansell, the commanding general, in January 1945. Though morale in the Marianas was probably low in February, it must have picked up again in March after LeMay changed to more successful tactics and began fixing maintenance problems with the aircraft. Securing an intermediate air base at Iwo Jima certainly improved aircrew confidence even further—how much is uncertain—but even so, a marginal improvement in airmen’s morale does not justify the thousands of lives lost at Iwo Jima.
One unquestionable benefit of Iwo Jima’s airfields was their direct contribution to air-sea rescue efforts, but this only affected a small number of aircrews. The Army Air Forces stationed an air-sea rescue unit as one of the first detachments on Iwo Jima. The average rescue rate from November 1944 through February had been around 34 percent. After the capture of Iwo Jima, this rate rose to 61 percent. However, air rescue units stationed on Iwo Jima were only minor players in the rescue of B-29 crews. Although the Army Air Forces established an additional air rescue base on Okinawa in July, naval efforts in the Nanpo-Shoto—its Dumbos, its surface craft, and its submarines—played the biggest recovery role.
Applying the average rescue rate before Iwo Jima’s capture through the entire period, combined air-sea rescue operations saved an additional 223 airmen over the previous rate. Iwo Jima was not solely responsible for this increase, however. The VII Fighter Command’s air-sea rescue unit on Iwo Jima saved 57 airmen during the entire war. Although Operation Detachment increased the performance of rescue operations, the number of American lives saved pales in comparison to the number lost in capturing the island. Additionally, the Bonin chain offered more islands than Iwo Jima that could have served as an air rescue base.
In his report to the secretary of the navy, Admiral King maintained that Iwo Jima was the only island in the Bonins that “lends itself to the construction of airfields.” In the official Marine Corps history, Whitman S. Bartley carefully sidestepped this issue by stating that Iwo Jima “was the only island that could support a large number of fighter aircraft.”
These statements failed to acknowledge that Iwo Jima was not the only island in the Bonins that provided landing facilities. Both Chichi Jima and Haha Jima had sizable airfields already built—a fact that has not received enough historical scrutiny.
Although the unevenness of Iwo Jima’s airfield limited its employment, the island of Chichi Jima had an excellent port facility and fresh water, and was 150 miles closer to Japan (510 miles from Tokyo while Iwo Jima was 660 miles from Japan’s capital). Chichi Jima literally means “father island,” and until Kuribayashi transferred his headquarters to Iwo Jima, the Japanese considered Chichi Jima the cornerstone of the Bonin Islands in terms of both utility and defense. The mountainous terrain, steep cliffs, and limited landing areas surrounding Chichi Jima made it a difficult target for amphibious assault. American intelligence incorrectly assumed that most of the Japanese 109th Infantry Division was still stationed there. In reality, Kuribayashi had transferred the majority of his manpower and materiel to Iwo Jima. Chichi Jima acted mainly as a communications and logistics facility supporting Iwo Jima and the other Bonin Islands.
Iwo Jima provided a valid and useful base to support both land and sea operations. The mountainous island had heavy naval guns surrounding the port, bristled with antiaircraft guns, and had few landing beaches. Although it is difficult to imagine a defense more thoroughly impregnable than Iwo Jima, the defenses on Chichi Jima were certainly formidable. However, perhaps due to confidence in the island’s geography, the 15,000 Japanese defenders of Chichi Jima (6,000 less than on Iwo Jima) did not start seriously organizing their defenses for repelling an invasion until July 1945, four months after the assault on Iwo Jima.
Chichi Jima proved enticing to the U.S. Navy, and planners devised a way to seize the island, code-named Operation Farragut, in June 1944. The largest airfield on Iwo Jima before its capture was approximately 4,245 by 425 feet, while the one at Chichi Jima was 2,900 by 900 feet, with water at both ends of the runway. This airstrip was built on landfill placed in the water between two rocky outcroppings of the island, which accounts for its unusual width. Fighters like the P-51 required less than 1,000 feet to take off or land, but B-29s typically used over 8,000 feet of runway. Planners estimated that it would take two construction battalions 55 days for each 500-foot extension to allow B-29s to use Chichi Jima’s runway.
The navy formulated a plan to create an advanced naval base on the island in August 1944, which included a 4,000-foot fighter strip and an alternative plan for a 6,000-foot medium bomber airfield. (B-29s made emergency landings on Iwo Jima’s shorter runways.) Capturing the island would have satisfied several U.S. objectives, including providing an airfield for fighter support and air-sea rescue, but making the airfields suitable for B-29s in a timely fashion would have been difficult. It is hard to speculate on the available options in hindsight, but to deny that there were other landing facilities in the Bonin Islands misrepresents the choices available.
One common argument for the invasion contends that Japanese fighters on Iwo Jima threatened B-29 flights over the Bonins. This reasoning has two major weaknesses. First, the Japanese did not station fighters permanently on Iwo Jima. The lack of a port facility on the island made logistics arduous, which relegated the airfields to staging and refueling purposes. Before June 1944, the Japanese primarily used two of Iwo Jima’s airfields as a waypoint between Honshu and the Mariana Islands. After the United States seized the Marianas in June 1944, Iwo Jima’s usefulness to the Japanese greatly diminished, and the island airfields had little relevance to defending Japan from B-29 attacks.
Iwo Jima’s distance from Tokyo, which made it impossible, given the time constraints, to get fighters from Honshu to Iwo Jima and intercept B-29s, even with several hours’ advance notice. Under the circumstances, it just was not possible for Japanese interceptors to react to unanticipated flights over the Bonins.
Likewise, the supposed “dogleg course” that some historians have maintained had a negative effect on bomber operations has little credibility. Bombers simply flew in formation to a point opposite Iwo Jima and then proceeded on an individual basis to the Marianas from that point. While not flying directly over Japanese-held Iwo Jima was prudent, it did not hinder operations.
Even if the Japanese had attempted to predict a B-29 mission and sent a few fighters to Iwo Jima for an ambush, those Zeroes would have been highly susceptible to bomber attack from the Marianas. The airfields on Iwo Jima could be (and were, by January 1945) neutralized by repeated aerial bombardment. Most important, it does not appear that there was ever a significant threat of B-29s being harassed over Iwo Jima. From August 1944 through February 1945, 2,800 B-24 Liberator sorties flew directly over Iwo Jima to bomb the airfields, and only 9 were shot down by either enemy fighter or anti-aircraft fire. Considering that defenses on Iwo Jima could incapacitate less than half a percent of the planes that attacked it, simply flying past the island at 30,000 feet posed little danger.
The official Army Air Forces history failed to mention even a single instance of a B-29 shot down near the island. Its authors declared that “the idea of seizing the island derived less from its menace while in Japanese hands than from its potential value as an advanced base for the 20th Air Force.”
After Iwo Jima had failed to fulfill its purpose as a fighter escort base, the military presented several other justifications for Operation Detachment. Some of those reasons have more validity than others none outweighs the tremendous cost incurred in capturing the island.
Initially, at least, there was public criticism about the need for Iwo Jima. Writing in Newsweek, Adm. William V. Pratt, a retired chief of naval operations, summarized the situation on the home front: “There has been a certain amount of public criticism over this expenditure of manpower to acquire a small, Godforsaken island, useless to the Army as a staging base and useless to the Navy as a fleet base. The public wants to know if the occupation of Iwo Jima was a military necessity and wonders if the same sort of airbase could not have been reached by acquiring other strategic localities at lower cost.”
That assessment rings true today.
Marine Capt. Robert S. Burrell has taught history at the U.S. Naval Academy. His published research on Iwo Jima won awards from the Society of Military History, the Naval Historical Foundation, the Naval Historical Center, and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. This article is adapted from his book The Ghosts of Iwo Jima (Texas A&M University Press, 2006).
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2007 issue (Vol. 19, No. 2) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Worth the Cost? Justification of the Iwo Jima Invasion
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Who Really Raised the Flag on Iwo Jima?
For over seventy years, Marine Corps misidentified two men who raised the first flag on Iwo Jima.
Here's What You Need to Know: The second flag raising, in which Marines replaced the first flag with a much larger one, would be the one immortalized forever by war photographer Joe Rosenthal’s famous picture.
The Marine Corps announced on August 24, 2016 that it revised the identification of two of the men who raised the first flag on Iwo Jima.
Marine Corps commandant General Robert B. Neller stated in an address on the revelation:
“Our history is important, and we owe it to our Marines and their families to ensure it is as accurate as possible. After we reviewed the second flag raising and found inconsistencies, we wanted to take another look at the first flag-raising to make sure we had it correct.”
The Confusion Around the Flag Raisers
The dual flag raisings on Iwo Jima have made identifying the individuals involved in each a source of confusion. Compounding this is the fact that Joe Rosenthal, the photographer who took the famed photograph of the second flag raising, never recorded the names of his subjects. It was weeks later that any names surfaced, by then some of these men had already been killed or wounded in action.
The most recent statements by the Marine Corps revealed that Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class John H. Bradley (the only non-Marine in the photograph) and Pvt. Philip L. Ward were misidentified as Pfcs. Louis C. Charlo and James R. Michels in photographs of the first flag raising. Charlo was thought to be the soldier second from the left, gripping the flag, while Michels had been misidentified crouching forefront equipped with an M1 Carbine.
In June 2016, the Marine Corps revealed that it had also made a mistake identifying the soldiers in the photograph of the second raising: Pfc. Harold Schultz had been misidentified as Bradley.
The error was noticed initially by retired Marine Sgt. Maj. James Dever as he advised on the Clint Eastwood film Flags of Our Fathers which traced the experiences of the six men who raised the second flag on Iwo Jima. The truth about the identities of the soldiers was then revealed in 2014 by amateur historian Eric Kelle when he published his detailed analysis of the photographs on his blog. The Marine Corps then initiated its own investigations into the photographs, leading to the revelations in June and this Wednesday.
The History of the Two Flag Raisings on Iwo Jima
The first flag raising was not as publicized as the second flag raising, however, for the Marines and sailors on the sea and the shore the event was electrifying. Across the island, Marines cheered and ship’s horns blared. Coast Guard sailor Chet Hack recalled that “the uproar almost shook the sky”. When Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal saw the flag flying high above the crater-marked island, he declared “This means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years.”
The second flag raising, in which Marines replaced the first flag with a much larger one, would be the one immortalized forever by war photographer Joe Rosenthal’s famous picture. The striking poses of the Marines planting the flag as it rippled in the violent winds of Iwo Jima captured the struggle in the Pacific for the American public. It has since featured prominently as a symbol of honor and sacrifice for the men of the Marine Corps. The statue of the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington is a direct copy of the photograph. The roof of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia was also designed in its likeness.
The Story Behind the Two Flag-Raisings at the Battle of Iwo Jima
Joe Rosenthal missed the moment when United States Marines first raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. The Associated Press photographer was still climbing up the mountain at the time.
But when Marines raised another flag, he was there to capture the image for the ages. And he would spend the rest of the war arguing over whether he'd staged the second raising.
Fighting on Iwo Jima lasted 36 days, but it took the Marines only five days to reach the top of the eight-square-mile island's highest point, Mount Suribachi. Almost from the get-go, the fighting was brutal. Japan had a year to reinforce the island with tunnels carved into the mountainside, hidden artillery positions and a network of reinforced bunkers.
Allied bombing and naval barrages could do nothing to soften up the island's defenses for the attacking Marines. When they landed, they were facing the full force of its Japanese defenders, who were willing to fight to the death for every inch of volcanic rock.
So when the Marines topped Suribachi and planted the first flag, it was a huge boon to the Marines fighting below and the sailors offshore. The ships blew their horns when they saw the flag. Gunfire and cheers erupted from the sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen fighting below.
Gunfire also erupted from the Japanese soldiers, who saw the flag as just a new target atop the island's highest peak. After the flag was raised, a hail of bullets came in around the Marines on Mount Suribachi.
Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Lowery of Leatherneck Magazine was there to capture the first raising, but had to dive for cover when the enemy started shooting. His camera was broken in the fall, and he had to go back down the mountain to get new gear. On his way to the rear, he passed Rosenthal and his Graflex 4x5 camera. The AP representative was about to get something few war photographers ever did: a second chance at capturing the moment.
By the time Rosenthal reached the top, the first flag was still there. Like any good photographer, he waited around to see what came next. He didn't have to wait long.
After seeing how the American troops responded to the first flag being raised, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Chandler Johnson ordered a new, larger flag to be raised over the battlefield. This 96x56-inch flag would be one that could be seen across the island.
Rosenthal was present for this flag-raising. But he almost missed the second moment too.
Marine Sgt. William Genaust was filming the moment and asked Rosenthal whether he was in his way. The AP photographer turned to look at Genaust and realized the Marines were raising the flag.
He had to snap the now-iconic photo without looking into the viewfinder. His next shot was a group photo of 16 Marines and two Navy corpsmen around the raised flag.
"Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen the men start the flag up," he later told Colliers Magazine. "I swung my camera and shot the scene. That is how the picture was taken, and when you take a picture like that, you don't come away saying you got a great shot. You don't know."
Rosenthal sent the photo to be processed on Guam, where it was quickly sent out to The Associated Press in New York. Within 17 hours of the flag-raising, the photo was on the newswires -- and on the desk of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It would win a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 1945 and became a symbol of the enduring spirit of United States Marines.
Taking shelter on Iwo Jima - HistoryU.S. Marines raise the American flag atop Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima, 1945. Photo credit: Joe Rosenthal/AP
It all began on February 19, 1945. Over the course of five weeks, some of World War II’s bloodiest fighting unfolded 750 miles off the coast of Japan. Known in Japan as Iwo To, Iwo Jima (which means ‘Sulfur Island’ in Japanese) is an eight-square-mile active volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean. So how did this little island in the middle of the ocean become the scene of such a significant moment in U.S. military history, punctuated by an unmistakable flag raising?
Iwo Jima presented American forces with both a challenge and an opportunity. The Japanese built airstrips on Iwo Jima, which was unoccupied up to that point. Originally, American forces set their sites on the island of the Republic of Formosa (now Taiwan), but the distance was still too great for bombing runs. Enter Iwo Jima. Iwo Jima was also a thorn in the side of American forces, since fighter interceptors were frequently launched from the airstrips built on the island. Taking Iwo Jima would not only remove the threat of Japanese interceptions, but also create an opportunity for fighter escorts and a base for American forces. Thus, on October 3, 1944 the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered preparations for the seizure of Iwo Jima.
Though the American invasion of Iwo Jima was likely unknown by the Japanese, they had taken precautions anyway, setting up camouflaged artillery positions amongst the island’s jungle-filled mountainous terrain. When American forces’ amphibious invasion took place on February 19, they immediately faced challenges unforseen during the planning stages. The moment forces stepped foot on the beaches, they were met with steep dunes composed of soft volcanic ash. The consistency of the soft black sand created a difficult ground to maintain firm footing. The deep water near shore and small, but steep beaches created significant difficulties for unloading and mobilizing the Marines’ vehicles.
Prior to the landing, Allied forces bombed the island, and assumed that their attacks crippled much of the Japanese forces. Yet, due to the varied positions taken by the Japanese on the island, the attacks were far less effective than expected. As a result, while American forces struggled to get their footing, Japanese forces in the mountains began their attack. In the days that followed, more than 70,000 Marines surged onto Iwo Jima, outnumbering Japanese forces more than three-to-one.
After four days of fighting, American forces captured Mount Suribachi, and raised the American flag in what has now become the iconic image associated with the Battle of Iwo Jima. Yet, the battle was still far from over. In fact, fighting on the northern end of Iwo Jima continued for four more weeks with the Japanese mounting a final attack on March 25, 1945. In the weeks following, American forces sought out holdouts who refused to surrender. Surprisingly, two holdouts continued to elude capture, and managed to survive without surrender until 1949, nearly four years after the conclusion of World War II.
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In those 36 days, 28,000 Marines and soldiers — American and Japanese — were killed, and 16,000 were wounded.
On the following pages, survivors of the battle look back over the decades to recall the Marine Corps’ deadliest campaign.
/>Only Yards from Iwo Jima's invasion beach, Marines of the 5th Marine Division ready to land from a Coast Guard LCVP. Date of the photo is presumably the Iwo Jima D-Day, 19 February 1945. (Collection of James Edwin Bailey, a 2006 donation from his wife, Helen McShane Bailey, a Coast Guard photograph now in the collections of U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
Pfc. Pete Santoro,rifleman, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division:
“I joined the Marines in November 1942. What happened was, after I had served three years in the National Guard, I got these papers telling me to report to the Army. I went to the recruiting office in Boston, and I found this Marine major and said, ‘Sir, can I speak to you?’
“I told him I didn’t want to go in the Army because my mother and father came from Italy, and Italy was fighting against us, and I had relatives in Mussolini’s army. I’d said I’d be fighting my own relatives and I’d feel bad shooting at them.
“‘Oh,’ he says, ‘now I understand. Follow me, son.’ He puts his hand on my shoulder, leads me into an office, passes me over to another Marine, and says, ‘I got a ripe one for you.’”
/>Distraught Marines console one another during a lull in battle on Iwo Jima. (USMC Archive)
Pfc. Charles Waterhouse, combat engineer, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division:
“We had a guy named Danaluk from Brooklyn, New York, whose draft number had come up. He wanted to get in the Coast Guard because he lived in Brooklyn and figured he could get a job on a ship patrolling New York Harbor, see? So he said to them, ‘I want the Coast Guard.’ They said, ‘You’re in the Marines.’ ‘No, no, no, I want the Coast Guard.’ They finally convinced him he had no say in the matter and that he was going to be a Marine. So every morning, as he threw the blankets off, his first words, the first thing he’d say was, ‘Oh, that effing draft board!’ Every day. So, in his honor, when the ramp let down on Green Beach, the whole boatload of us hollered, ‘Oh, that effing draft board!’ That was for Danny. The Japs must have thought, ‘Here comes a bunch of nuts.’”
/>Echelons of Amtracks churn their way ashore to crawl up the invasion beach of Iwo Jima The LVT (amphibious tractor, or amtrack) in the foreground is marked SA-29. (Collection of James Edwin Bailey, donated by his wife, Helen McShane Bailey in 2006, an official U.S. Coast Guard photograph now in the collections of U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
Cpl. James “Salty” Hathaway, Amtrac crew chief, Amphibian Tractor Company, 4th Marine Division:
“Going to Iwo, we were aboard ship before we found out where we were headed, just like Roi-Namur, Saipan, and Tinian. Nobody knew what was coming. The convoy, hundreds of ships, zigzagged continuously, changing direction every 15 minutes. We stopped in the Bay of Guam some of the convoy dropped off there. From there to Iwo took about 10 days, so altogether we were 30-some days aboard ship, didn’t do a darn thing but sit on our butts.
“The three days of shelling went on as we were approaching. We had these TCS radio sets, and we’d take ’em up topside on the LST and listen to the navy talking to its planes, so we knew pretty well what was going on. We just steamed straight in on D-day. We glimpsed the island out at sea it was just a shadow.
“When they served steak and eggs, we knew that would be our last meal aboard ship. Every operation we went on they’d give us steak and eggs, and then you had all them dead Marines with steak in them. (Maj.) Gen. Clifton Cates gave us the ‘Godspeed farewell’ message over the ship intercoms. We had heard two Navy pilots had been captured and tied to poles on Iwo and the Japs ran by, cutting them with swords. Gen. Cates said in his farewell speech, ‘You know what went on ashore. Take no goddamn prisoners.’ Those were his exact words. All the time I was on Iwo Jima I saw one prisoner, and a chaplain had him.”
Pfc. Samuel Tso, code talker, Reconnaissance Company, 5th Marine Division:
“We didn’t know we were going to Iwo until we were out there at Saipan. I can’t remember what wave I went in with, but when we landed, there was no fire from the Japanese. But after we went on top and started spreading out, they opened fire. Some of the guys jumped in an artillery crater. We jumped in on the south side of it, and the guys who jumped in on the north side got shot because they were exposed. My personal sergeant was a guy named Barnes when we started moving forward, he got blown up. He told me to go around to the other side and stay behind. He went straight ahead and stepped on a mine. If I’d followed him, I’d have been killed.
“Let me tell you, I was scared stiff. The only thing that helped me go on was the fact that I was committed to the fellows that I trained with. We were told that you go in as a team that you must watch out for each other. That’s what kept me going, even though I was scared.
“When we went ashore, our mission was to cut the island in half, but they held some of us behind. They put us by the airfield and said, ‘You hold this for a certain day and then follow.’ My job was to receive and send messages from the ships or the command post or whatever it is. You receive it and send it on. All in Navajo. All the radio guys were Navajos doing code. I don’t know how many there were altogether. I know my recon company had six. All messages went in code. Maj. Howard Connor said he had six Navajo networks going 24 hours, and they sent and received 800 messages without an error.
“On Feb. 23, 1945, just somewhere close to noontime, all of a sudden the radio signaled, ‘Message for Arizona’ [meaning a code talker needed to receive it]. So I just grabbed my papers and my pencil and just sent it. They sent this message: DIBE BINAR NAAZI: ‘Sheep’s eyes is cured Mount Suribachi is secure.’ Sheep Uncle Ram Ice Bear Ant Cat Horse Itch spelled Suribachi. And it was encoded too. It was sent out, and I caught it there by the airfield. And the Marines that were there saw me writing it down, and they all said, ‘What’s up, Chief?’ All I did was just point up to the flag, and they saw it. Oh gosh, those guys just jumped up and started celebrating there. They forgot the Japanese were still shooting. As I remember, Sgt. Thomas screamed at us, said, ‘Damn you knotheads! Get back in your foxholes there.’ And then the guys stopped celebrating, and they jumped back into their foxholes.”
/>In this Feb 23, 1945, file photo, U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Japan. (Joe Rosenthal/AP)
Capt. Gerald Russell, battalion commander, 27th Marines, 5th Marine Division:
“We were facing away in a kind of crevice, and one of the kids yelled, ‘Look!’ He pointed up, and there on the top of Mount Suribachi we could see this small group of men and Old Glory. It was very emotional. You can’t imagine how I felt. There was an old gunnery sergeant standing near me. He was about six feet two and had been in the Marines for I don’t know how many years — the Old Corps, you know?
“This guy had the most colorfully profane vocabulary I’ve ever heard. How he could conjure up some of these things was just amazing. He never showed any emotion or anything else, and on the fifth day we were coated with that black grime. We barely had enough water to drink, let alone to wash. When the flag went up, I couldn’t say anything. I had a lump in my throat, and I don’t know if I had any tears, but I looked at this guy who I never thought had an ounce of emotion in his body, and he looked at me and you could see tears coming down through this grime on his face, and he said — and I’ll never forget it — he said, ‘God, that’s the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.’
“I’ve said this in Flag Day speeches and stuff—that up to that point we weren’t sure whether we were going to succeed or not. But from that moment on, when the flag went up, we knew we were. It didn’t get any easier, but we knew we were going to win. We were reminded of what we were there for.”
/>Three Japanese soldiers emerge from their hiding place to surrender, 5 April 1945, during mopping up operations by U.S. Army occupation forces on Iwo Jima. (National Archives)
Cpl. Al Abbatiello, combat engineer, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division:
“I got wounded on the 23rd, the same day the flag went up. Actually I was in battalion aid at that point. We had been working on a cave with a big coastal gun emplacement. One of the guys set a couple of charges up on top because it was surrounded by concrete, and our stuff wouldn’t do anything but make a big loud noise. We figured if we could get something up high, we could drop half the mountain on it.
“The guy with the charge climbed up the side and got it set. We were covering him, and the infantry was covering us. They even brought up a couple of tanks to give us cover. Anyway, he got up there and came back down, but the charge didn’t go off. Something was wrong with the detonator. So I took a charge myself and climbed up and put it on top of the other charge. I waited a decent amount of time and put it on the charge, and I wanted to get away from there in a hurry. Coming down, I tripped. I slipped, fell, and rolled all the way down. There were huge explosions going all over the place. When I hit the hole, somebody said, ‘Oh my God, your face is gone.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ Turned out I was full of blood. Since I fell, I figured all the pain was from the fall, but actually it was a piece of shrapnel, probably from a Japanese grenade that was rolled down there.
“They dug something out of my nose and out of the side of my cheek. Something ripped out the side of my nose and gum, and my cheek was cut wide open. I thought it came from the fall. The lieutenant checking in on us said, ‘Get yourself to the aid station,’ so I went over to the battalion aid midway across the neck. You know what a million dollar wound is, where you get hurt — but not bad, but bad enough so you have to pull out? This young kid corpsman was treating me. He had been on the ship with us. He patched me up, a couple Band-Aids, this and that and the other thing. ‘You didn’t sew it, though,’ I said to him. ‘A million dollar wound, huh?’ He looked at me and said, ‘Get the hell out of here.’
“Near the end of the operation, we had secured the island pretty close, and we were mopping up. I had the squad just going around, blasting anything that would be bad. We went out on patrol, and they put a corpsman to go with six of us. It was that same kid who treated my face injury. Anyway, a charge goes off, and I hear this screaming. There’s a big rock right over the corpsman. He’s lucky, having just enough space under it so it broke his leg but didn’t crush him. We drug him out and sent him to battalion aid, and when we got back that evening, somebody said, ‘Hey, a guy wants to see you over in sick bay.’ So I go to the battalion aid station, and he’s laying on the floor. He’s got a cast on him, and he looks at me and [waves his hand]. I figure he can’t talk loud, so I lean over — and he kisses me. He says, ‘Million dollar wound!’ I say, ‘You son of a bitch!’”
/>Navy doctors and corpsmen tend to wounded Marines at a first aid station on 20 February 1945. Navy Chaplain Lt. j.g. John H. Galbreath (right center) kneels beside a man who has severe flash burns, received in an artillery battery approximately 50 yards away. (National Archives)
Cpl. Glenn Buzzard, machine gunner, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division:
“You didn’t see too many Japs. Once in a while they’d run from one cave to another. You more or less seen their fire. You could see dust coming. As soon as we’d see that, we’d zone right in, and when we got up there, they’d be layin’ there.
“The terrain got rougher and rougher because of the catacombs and stuff where the water had washed in amongst it over the years. Some places you could step over a crack and you’d see a big gap deep down in there. Or you’d go around the corner and they’d be standing right there face to face. Whoever shot first was the winner. I saw one Marine shoot another Marine bone-dead right in my squad because he went around this way and the other went around that way and, it was just like I said, you don’t have a split second. You just pull the trigger. Shoot first. Whoever does, they’re the one’s going to win. We had to take the guy that shot the other Marine, take him clear out because he just went berserk.”
/>Original caption from 1945: These Marines of the Fifth Division never saw as much brass in their entire time in boot camp as they have around their machine gun on Iwo Jima, Japan on March 5, 1945. The battle of Suribachi wasn't a dry run and they didn't have to pick up their brass as the battle was for keeps. (AP)
Sgt. Cyril O’Brien,combat correspondent, 9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division:
(From one of O’Brien’s March 1945 combat reports, picking up in the midst of an American ambush at a watering hole.)
“Silence fell again except for the occasional rasping scratch of a land crab or the moan of a tortured tree. An animal ran across the trail that was our fire lane, but that was all that came during my watch.
“I had awakened Pvt. Duane Wills to relieve me when two carbine shots cracked in quick succession to our right. We turned in time to see Pfc. Dale Beckett dive into a rock pit as a hissing grenade passed over his head and exploded behind him.
“In a draw below, a Jap slumped over an abandoned enemy satchel, two bullets through his neck. Another Jap hugged the shadowed sides of a draw from where he had thrown his grenade.
“The Jap could not be seen in the shadows, but he made a frantic dash into the moonlight to escape from the draw. The .30-caliber slugs passed through his head. Pfc. Harper R. Rudge guarded the ravine from the opposite wall. Rudge crawled to the edge of the draw, tossed a grenade, then disappeared behind the rock barricade.
“Star shells were falling continually now over the beach area to our front, and in the distance a machine gun clattered.
“‘Doggies [Army soldiers],’ Wills said. ‘The Nips are giving them trouble again.’ He stared back on the trail and hunched his body over the machine gun. I curled up at his feet in an attempt to sleep, but he soon tapped my helmet. Japs were again back on the trail.
“Four walked boldly into our ring, gibbering among themselves. From behind a stone wall a burst of fire cut into the Japs. Two doubled over and fell. Pvt. Patrick J. Cleary Jr. stood upright in his foxhole and cradled his Browning Automatic Rifle.
“Shot through the legs, a Jap dragged his body with his elbows toward a grenade bag but before he had moved three feet another burst from Cleary’s weapon caught him in the chest.
“Another Jap, his right leg shattered, moved with surprising swiftness toward [Pvt. Leo] Chabod’s position. The Marine dropped on the ground beside his companion as a grenade bounced off the parapet and exploded. The Jap was still rushing with a second grenade when a shot from [Pvt. Jack] Woenne’s rifle caught him in the middle. He dropped in a sitting position, dead.
“On the road, the first Jap caught in Cleary’s surprise fire raised his body on his left arm. A grenade sputtered in his hand but this Jap was through fighting. He exploded the missile under his chest.
“Dawn, and the ambushers stirred from cover in the crypts and behind the rocks. Through habit they still spoke in low tones.
“Pfc. Ferdinand Leon found a bloody trail. Someone had dragged a wounded Jap away. He followed the trail for twenty yards but lost it on a jagged slope.
“We filed back past the waterholes, and for the first time I looked in them. Eleven Japs had come carrying canteens, buckets and mess tins. Nine had died here.
“There was not enough water in the well to fill a single canteen.”
/>"Four cans apiece." Shore Patrol issues the beer ration to crewmen of the battleship West Virginia during an enlisted men's liberty party, at Mog-Mog, Ulithi, March 1945. (A gift of Robert O. Baumrucker, 1978, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
Water Tender 3rd Class James Bush,mine layer Terror:
“We brought all our wounded from Iwo Jima to Saipan at the end of February in 1945, resupplied, and went and anchored in a big lagoon at Ulithi, where we went ashore to swim and dive and eat and drink beer. There was nothing there but beach. The beer was Iron City.
“The story of how we got the beer started in Pearl Harbor in January, when we were all fueled up and loading the last of our supplies. Some new young officer pulled up alongside the ship in a weapons carrier and parked it near the end of our gangplank. We told him, ‘Don’t park there,’ because we were unloading trucks and putting supplies on the ship. He said he would park where he wanted to. He was a real starchy-looking guy with a uniform that was too large for him. He didn’t look any older than me, and I was going on nineteen.
“We’d already put all the supplies we could down below. Back on the fantail we had a big old space with some tiedowns. We’d put a hundred tons of potatoes back there. A weapons carrier has lifters on it so it can be picked up and set aboard ship. Well, guess what? I stood up there and watched them guys look around all over the place, no other officers watching them, and they reached over and picked that weapons carrier up and set it onto the ship next to the potatoes, covered it with a big tarp. An hour after that we were backing out of dry dock so we could get out of Pearl Harbor before they put the gate up. They had cables down there to keep enemy submarines out of the harbor.
“When we got to Saipan, they set that weapons carrier off onto the dock, and everybody was riding around. I even went out in it for an hour or two. Some of the guys who pulled that stunt struck a deal with some of the guys on Saipan, military people. They liked that weapons carrier. They were moving to the war zone, and they didn’t have anything like that.
“Our guys said, ‘Well, what have you got to trade?’ They said, ‘We know where there are four pallets of Iron City beer. Dozens of cases.’ Done. So they went on down to the ship, waited till the officer of the deck left his post, and they picked those pallets up, brought them aboard, and moved them to a walk-in cooler. Iron City beer was nasty-tasting stuff, but when we got to Ulithi after Iwo, it was really good, I’ll tell you that. It was worth that weapons carrier.
“I pitied that poor little officer, though, having to walk all the way up through that shipyard, back to his commander saying, ‘Guess what? I lost the weapons carrier.’
"It took us four days to drink up all the beer.”
/>Pharmacist's Mate 2nd Class George E. Wahlen, receives the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman during Nimitz Day ceremonies at the White House on 5 October 1945. (National Archives)
Pharmacist’s Mate 3rd ClassGeorge Wahlen,Fox Company, 2d Battalion, 26th Marines:
“My strongest memory of Iwo was what turned out to be my last day in combat. As we were going up north, a group got hit with heavy fire, and as I was crawling up there, I got hit in the leg. There was casualties right in front of me, so I started to get up, but I couldn’t. I looked down at my foot, and part of my boot had been torn away, and my right leg was all bloody and broken just above the ankle. I pulled my boot off and put a battle dressing on it and gave myself a shot of morphine. Then I crawled up to where the marines were. As I remember, there were about five of them, and they were all pretty well shot up. I think one guy lost a leg, and others were all beat up. I worked with them and bandaged them, and gave them morphine as long as I could. Finally they were evacuated. Then somebody out to our left flank got hit and started hollering for a corpsman, so I crawled out on hands and knees and took care of him too. He could have been 40 or 50 yards out there, so I crawled out and bandaged him up, and we crawled to a shell hole.
“The stretcher-bearers came for us but then dropped me when rifle fire came. I got out my .45 and started crawling toward the enemy. It was the morphine. They finally came and got me and took me to the aid station. Four of us went from there on a truck to the field hospital. My war was over. I think it was March 3. I was scared myself plenty of times. I always remember that feeling of being scared, but the thought of letting somebody down scared me even more.”
/>Wounded Marines take cover in a concrete Japanese shelter on Iwo Jima. Although the structure suffered a direct artillery hit, the portions still standing later saw use as an aid station. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
Excerpted from IWO JIMA: WORLD WAR II VETERANS REMEMBER THE GREATEST BATTLE OF THE PACIFIC by Larry Smith. Copyright © 2008 by Larry Smith. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This article originally appeared in the July 2008 World War II Magazine, a sister publication of Navy Times. To subscribe, click here.
Was Iwo Jima worth the cost?
After a staggering loss of life on the island, American military leaders scrambled to justify the invasion
Taking shelter on Iwo Jima - History
The Battle of Iwo Jima took place during World War II between the United States and Japan. It was the first major battle of World War II to take place on Japanese homeland. The island of Iwo Jima was a strategic location because the US needed a place for fighter planes and bombers to land and take off when attacking Japan.
US Marines storm the beaches of Iwo Jima
Source: National Archives
Iwo Jima is a small island located 750 miles south of Tokyo, Japan. The island is only 8 square miles in size. It is mostly flat except for a mountain, called Mount Suribachi, located on the southern end of the island.
The Battle of Iwo Jima took place near the end of World War II. US Marines first landed on the island on February 19, 1945. The generals who planned the attack had thought that it would take around a week to take the island. They were wrong. The Japanese had many surprises for the US soldiers and it took over a month (36 days) of furious fighting for the US to finally capture the island.
On the first day of the battle 30,000 US marines landed on the shores of Iwo Jima. The first soldiers that landed weren't attacked by the Japanese. They thought that the bombings from US planes and battleships may have killed the Japanese. They were wrong.
Soldier using flame thrower
Source: US Marines
The Japanese had dug all sorts of tunnels and hiding places all over the island. They were waiting quietly for more marines to get on shore. Once a number of marines were on shore they attacked. Many US soldiers were killed.
The battle went on for days. The Japanese would move from area to area in their secret tunnels. Sometimes the US soldiers would kill the Japanese in a bunker. They would move on thinking it was safe. However, more Japanese would sneak into the bunker through a tunnel and then attack from behind.
First flag raised at Iwo Jima
by Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery
Raising the Flag of the United States
After 36 days of brutal fighting, the US had finally secured the island of Iwo Jima. They placed a flag on top of Mount Suribachi. When they raised the flag a picture was taken by photographer Joe Rosenthal. This picture became famous in the United States. Later a statue was made of the picture. It became the US Marine Corps Memorial located just outside Washington, DC.
Marine Corps Memorial by Christopher Hollis
Floating reserve (committed to center sector 22 Feb):
Northern sector (Yellow and Blue beaches):