During World War II on February 19, 1945, the United States of America and the Empire of Japan fought for Iwo Jima, a small island approximately 660 miles away from Japan. Codenamed Operation Detachment by the United States, the battle lasted for 35 days, ending on March 26, 1945, and it remains the largest battle in Marine Corps history, with some 75,144 men being deployed to fight (Frank). The battle of Iwo Jima also marked the first time that American casualties were higher than Japanese casualties in an amphibious assault. American casualties reached 24,733 while Japanese casualties were a little over 21,570 (Frank & Naval History). This number was due to the leadership of the Japanese during the battle.
The general who was in command of the Japanese forces at Iwo Jima was Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. During the battle for Iwo Jima, Lieutenant General Kuribayashi would show that he was one of Japan’s finest General’s. In preparation for the upcoming battle, Lieutenant General Kuribayashi chose to focus his defense on the Northern two-thirds of Iwo Jima, instead on the beaches where the United States would land troops (Frank). Kuribayashi knew that Japan would not beat the United States, simply because of the amount of soldiers the United States would send. Knowing this, Kuribayashi decided to not focus his efforts on the southern beaches and lose quickly to a superior American force, but instead Kuribayashi decided to create strong defensive positions on the rest of the island to increase the amount of American casualties. It was Kuribayashi’s belief that if his forces could inflict enough American casualties, the United States would not be compelled to invade Japan, fearing that they would lose too many soldiers.
In the Pacific Campaign of World War II, the United States used a strategy called island hopping, where the United States would attack a Japanese controlled island, capture it, and then repeat the process until they got to Japan. This was the United States strategy to defeat Japan, and the island of Iwo Jima was the next island to be captured. Iwo Jima was also strategically important because of the airfields located on it (Burrell). Iwo Jima was close enough to Japan where the United States could use the airfields on Iwo Jima to attack Japan through the air with B-29 bombers. This was the main reason why Japan defended the island so heavily.
While the island of Iwo Jima was defensively important to the defense of mainland Japan, it was of little offensive importance because by this time Japan’s strategy was strictly based of the defense of mainland Japan. One Japanese officer described Iwo Jima’s offensive relevance as such, “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 (Burrell).”
Before the actually land invasion began, the United States bombed the southern part of Iwo Jima, three days before where they would land their troops. This is where American intelligence significantly failed in two ways. It underestimated Kuribayashi’s forces by at least a third, and completely missed Kuribayashi’s intent to make his last stand at the north end of the island, instead of facing the American’s head on at the south end. These errors ended up causing the misdirection of the three day bombardment, the heaviest of the war, to the southern landing beaches, instead of focusing on the northern side of the island, where the majority of Kuribayashi’s forces would be.
When the land invasion did begin, Americans forces were met with no resistance by the Japanese. Instead of attacking the landing forces head on, the Japanese waited for the Americans to advance onto the beach, than ambushed them as they closed in towards the Japanese position. Not only did the ambush cause a great number of initial American casualties, it was difficult for the marines to fight back due to the terrain of the beach. Instead of the beach being made out of sand, it was full of volcanic ash, which made it hard for the landing forces to dig into the ground and defend themselves. One marine described it as, “trying to fight in a bin of loose wheat (Frank).” American forces were able to eventually break the Japanese line, and on February 23, 1945, the southern end of Iwo Jima was captured by American forces.
As the United States pushed forward, they were met with heavy resistance from the Japanese who were well fortified and prepared to face the enemy. The more up north the United States went, the harder it became for them to fight. The Japanese had dug many bunkers into the terrain, and were successful at using ambush tactics against the marines which only made their advance more difficult. As the battle continued, marines started better adapting to fighting the Japanese on rough terrain, and with their superior forces drove the Japanese back until they could retreat no more. Marines fought for a long and tiring 35 days until on March 26, 1945, the island was officially said to be secure by American forces.
In addition to being a historic battle in World War II, the battle of Iwo Jima has also had a significant effect on American culture. You can see traces of the battle in many art forms and popular media in America. The Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima, a picture taken by American photographer Joe Rosenthal, depicts five marines and navy corpsman raising the flag on Mount Suribachi, at the southern end of Iwo Jima, on February 23, 1945. The photograph became a symbol for American patriotism during World War II, and the picture was even commemorated by being put on a postage stamp.
You can also see the battle depicted in a movie directed by Clint Eastwood called Letters from Iwo Jima. In the movie Clint Eastwood shows the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese side, depicting what Japanese soldiers experienced as the battle was fought. The movie won an Academy Award for best sound editing, and was nominated for three more for its depiction of the historic battle.
In conclusion, the battle of Iwo Jima was one of the most important battles in the Pacific front World War II. With the United States successfully able to capture the island of Iwo Jima, they acquired the airfields on the island. With these airfields now under United States control, B-29 bombers would now be able to use the island to launch aerial assaults towards Japan, and would be able to use it as a fueling station closer to Japan. The battle also showed the United States how far the Japanese were willing to go to defend their homeland. Out of the initial more than 20,000 force, only 1,083 Japanese soldiers were captured alive (Frank). This showed the United States that Japanese soldiers were willing to fight to the death to defend their home, and that if the United States was planning on invading Japan, the amount of casualties would have been catastrophic.
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