Operation Detachment: The Battle for Iwo Jima February - March 1945

The Americans Prepare
The Japanese Prepare
D-Day: 19 February 1945
D+1: 20 February 1945
D+2: 21 February 1945
D+3: 22 February 1945
D+4: 23 February 1945
D+5: 24 February 1945
D+6: 25 February 1945
D+7: 26 February 1945
D+8: 27 February 1945
D+9: 28 February 1945
D+10: 1 March 1945
D+11: 2 March 1945
D+12: 3 March 1945
D+13: 4 March 1945
D+14: 5 March 1945
D+15: 6 March 1945
D+16: 7 March 1945
D+17: 8 March 1945
D+18: 9 March 1945
D+19: 10 March 1945
D+20 - D+35: 11 March 1945 - 26 March 1945
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"Victory was never in doubt. What was in doubt in all our minds was whether there would be any of us left to dedicate our cemetery at the end." Major General Graves B Erskine, Commander, 3rd Marine Division

Towards the end of 1944, the Allied forces were successfully pushing the Japanese back from their earlier conquests. In Burma, the British 14th Army had advanced across the Burma-Indian border and was pushing the Japanese Army down the Irrawaddy River, while the American advance across the Pacific had brought it to the inner ring of Japanese defences before the mainland. General Douglas MacArthur had advanced across the Solomon Islands, New Guinea and had invaded Leyte in the Philippines in October. The US Navy and Marine Corps under Admiral Chester Nimitz had continued their 'island hopping' campaign that had begun at Guadalcanal in 1942 and continued through Tarawa (1943), the Mariana Islands (1944), Peleliu (1944) and was to reach its climax at Okinawa (1945).

After the capture of the Mariana Islands, the US 20th Air Force could mount a large-scale campaign against the industrial centres of Japan. The only obstacle to this was the strategically important island of Iwo Jima that housed two airfields, with a third under construction, as well as a radar station that could give up to two hours warning of an impeding raid. The Air Force needed to eliminate the fighter threat to their bombers and neutralise the radar station there. The island would also be useful as a refuge for damaged aircraft returning from raids, as a base for air-sea rescue flying boats and for P-51 long-range fighters to escort the B-29 bombers. On 3rd October 1944, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a directive to Admiral Nimitz to take Iwo Jima. The battle, which was described as the "most savage and costly battle in the history of the Marine Corps" (Lt Gen Holland M Smith), pitted three Marine divisions against 21,000 well-entrenched Japanese defenders.

The Americans Prepare

"It was an operation of one phase and one tactic . . . until the mission was completed it was a matter of frontal assault maintained with relentless pressure." Lt Gen Holland M Smith, Commander, Fleet Marine Force Pacific

The US invasion force would consist of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions from the US V Amphibious Corps under Major General Harry Schmidt with over 70,000 men, many of whom were veterans of previous battles. The plan called for the Marines to land on a two-mile stretch of beach on the southeast coast of the island between Mount Suribachi and the East Boat Basin. The beaches were divided into seven sections, each of 550 yards (503 metres).

The 3rd Marine Division sailed from Guam, which it had taken from the Japanese garrison in August 1944, while the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions sailed from Hawaii. While the invasion had been delayed twice by the huge requirements of General MacArthur's Philippines campaign, it had to be completed as quickly as possible to release resources for the invasion of Okinawa (Operation Iceberg), which was scheduled to begin on the 1st April 1945. On February 15th, the invasion force left Saipan and was soon spotted by Japanese naval patrol aircraft, which alerted the Iwo Jima garrison.

The American landings would take place on a two-mile stretch of beach between Mount Suribachi and the East Boat Basin on the southeast coast. The beaches were divided into seven landing zones, each of 550 yards (503 metres). Moving northeast from Mount Suribachi the beaches and the initial assault forces were:
Green Beach - 1st and 2nd Battalions, 28th Marine Regiment
Red Beach 1 - 2nd Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment
Red Beach 2 - 1st Battalion, 27th Marine Regiment
Yellow Beach 1 - 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment
Yellow Bach 2 - 2nd Battalion, 23rd Regiment
Blue Beach 1 - 1st and 3rd Battalions, 25th Marine Regiment
Blue Beach 2 - None
As Blue Beach 2 lay directly under known enemy gun positions in the Quarry, it was decided that both the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 25th Marine Regiment should land on Blue Beach 1. The 28th Marines would attack straight across the island from their landing zone and after reaching the northwest coast, turn southwest and isolate Mount Suribachi. They would then assault and secure it. The 27th Marines coming ashore on the Red Beaches would also drive northwest to the opposite coast but then turn northeast. The 23rd Marines would attack inland to capture Airfield No. 1 and then move northeast towards Airfield No. 2 while the 25th Marines would land and almost immediately move northeast to attack the high ground around the Quarry (see historical note below).

The Japanese Prepare

"I don't know who he is, but the Japanese General running this show is one smart bastard." Lt General Holland M Smith, Commander, Fleet Marine Force Pacific

The Japanese High Command had astutely noted the strategic importance of Iwo Jima as early as March 1944. They started to reinforce the island and diverted the 145th Infantry Regiment (Colonel Masuo Ikeda) that was originally intended to reinforce Saipan to the island before the American attack. They also sent the 109th Division, which consisted of the 2nd Mixed Brigade (Major General Sadasue Senda), 26th Tank Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel [Baron] Takeichi Nishi), 17th Mixed Infantry Regiment (Major Tamachi Fujiwara), divisional artillery brigade (Colonel Chosaku Kaido) as well as additional combat support battalions (anti-aircraft, artillery and machine gun). The naval force consisted mainly of anti-aircraft, communications, supply and engineering units, was commanded by Rear Admiral Toshinosuke Ichimaru (who also commanded the 27th Air Flotilla). The total garrison strength at the time of Operation Detachment was 21,060.

Lt General Tadamichi Kuribayashi had been assigned to command the garrison of Iwo Jima in May 1944. He had served in the United States as a deputy defence attaché and considered the USA the "last country in the world that Japan should fight." When he arrived he immediately began to reorganise the chaotic defences that were in place and with the arrival of additional troops and Korean labourers began a huge construction programme that included tunnels, caves, gun emplacements, pillboxes, bunkers and command posts, many of which were mutually supporting and linked by a vast underground communications system. Many were so well constructed that the intensive naval shelling and aerial bombing in the weeks before the attack simply failed to damage them. A lot of these fortifications were dug into the soft pumice-like volcanic rock, which mixed well with cement to provide additional reinforcement. Supply areas, ammunition stores and medical facilities were all constructed within the underground tunnel system and when the fighting was at its height, many Marines reporting hearing voices emanating from the ground below them. The tunnel system was so extensive that many of the troops that were defending Mount Suribachi managed to escape to the north before the volcano fell. Kuribayashi had studied traditional Japanese defensive tactics that emphasised halting the invader on the beach and realised that they had usually failed and the traditional 'banzai' charge, unless unleashed with care and precision, was a waste of men and resources. He looked at the tactics used by Lt General Sadae Inoue at Peleliu, who had abandoned the old style, and concentrated on a battle of attrition in order to wear down the enemy. Kuribayashi decided he too would adopt these tactics - the Americans would eventually take the islands but he would extract a fearful price. As the geography of Iwo Jima virtually dictated where the Marines would have to land (the only possible landing site being that already described), Kuribayashi set his defences accordingly. In addition, he acted on advice from his Staff Officer, Major Yoshitaka Horie to use the majority of anti-aircraft guns in the ground role as the Americans were bound to have such overwhelming air superiority that any guns that revealed themselves would be quickly destroyed. Many of his Staff Officers seem to have objected to this and used their anti-aircraft guns in both roles and many were put out of action quickly.

D-Day: 19 February 1945

"This is going to be a rough one, we could suffer as many as fifteen thousand casualties here." Lt Gen Holland M Smith, Commander, Fleet Marine Force Pacific

Before the invasion commenced, the commander of the V Amphibious Corps, Major General Harry Schmidt had requested ten days of continuous shelling from Rear Admiral William Blandy's Task Force 52 (the Support Force) but was turned down by Admiral Harry Hill as there would be insufficient time to rearm the ships before D-Day. Schmidt requested nine and was offered a mere three, with Spruance commenting, "I know that your people will get away with it". This was to have a hollow ring about it as the battle went on. In fact, Lt General Holland M Smith was to be scathing about the support afforded by the Navy in many of the amphibious assaults throughout the Pacific Campaign after the war. Two of the three days (the first and the third) allotted to gunfire support were marred by poor weather and on the second day as frogmen of the underwater demolition teams were reconnoitring the beach, both the USS Pensacola and the USS Leutze were hit by shore batteries, as were all twelve gunboats which were part of the support screen for the frogmen. D-Day however, dawned bright and clear with unlimited visibility. The US Navy task force off Iwo Jima was joined by Task Force 58 under Admiral Marc Mitscher, which had just conducted a series of raids against the Japanese mainland and consisted of sixteen aircraft carriers, eight battleships and fifteen cruisers, as well as Admiral Raymond Spruance in his flagship USS Indianapolis. The battleships and cruisers started to pound the island and were augmented by carrier-based aircraft mounting airstrikes. At this point, thousands of Marines began to disembark from troopships and LVTs. They were to be covered by sixty-eight LVT(A)s that were well-armoured amphibious tracked vehicles that mounted a 75mm howitzer and three machineguns. Despite the reconnaissance and beach samples from the frogmen that indicated the assault forces would have some trouble getting off the beach, the planners had considered that it would provide a minor obstacle only. Unfortunately, the initial assault wave encountered fifteen foot high terraces of soft volcanic ash that were to frustrate their advance inland and so the advance by the Marines, tanks, and LVTs ground to a halt on the shoreline. These were being followed by successive waves every five minutes or so, and the situation quickly deteriorated. Added to that, the Marines came up against the island's hydrography, which, on the steep beach, consisted of a plunging surf and strong undertow. Such forces soon seriously damaged many Higgins Boats. Admiral Hill and his chief Beachmaster, Captain Carl E 'Squeaky' Anderson had adopted the experimental 'Marston matting' (used to fabricate expeditionary airfield runways) to improve trafficability off the beach and while it worked well initially, it soon became chewed up as hundreds of tracked vehicles tried to manoeuvre off the beach. Added to that, the Japanese had not mined the beach itself but had spared no effort in mining the beach exits, which again hindered the assault forces.

By late morning, Admiral Harry Hill had some 6,000 men ashore and the bulldozers that had arrived with the early waves were battling with the terraces. Some elements had indeed managed to get off the beach and start to work their inland, but it was at this point Kuribayashi, despite his initial plan to wait until the Marines had reached Airfield One, decided to unleash the full fury of his concentrated artillery fire on the tempting targets struggling on the beach. Added to this, a sizeable element of beach defenders had survived the Navy's rolling barrage and added their weight to the fire. As one marine battalion commander remarked, "You could've held up a cigarette and lit it on the stuff going by".

Despite this, the Marines kept themselves in good order and started to move off the beaches in force. On Green Beach, the extreme left hand landing zone, the terrain was not so difficult here and Colonel Harry B Liversedge's 28th Marine Regiment (5th Marine Division, commanded by Major General Keller E Rockey) started their advance across the island to isolate Mount Suribachi. They were watched by Colonel Kanehiko Atsuchi and over 2,000 men in the independent command that defended Mount Suribachi in well-concealed positions all the way from the lower slopes to the mount. The 1st Battalion (1/28) pressed on towards the opposite coastline but ran straight into the 312th Independent Infantry Battalion under Captain Osada and fierce fighting erupted in and around a complex of pillboxes and bunkers. Some were destroyed but many bypassed in the dash to isolate Mount Suribachi and at around 10.35 the leading elements of B Company reached the coast. To their right on Red Beaches 1 and 2, the 27th Marines under Colonel Thomas A Wornham (5th Marine Divvision) were having great difficulty in moving off the beaches and were being hampered by the Japanese artillery fire. To their right, the 23rd Marines under Colonel Walter W Wensinger (4th Marine Division under Major General Clifton B Cates) had run into a series of blockhouses and pillboxes manned by Major Matsushita's 10th Independent Anti-Tank Battalion and Captain Awatsu's 309th Infantry Battalion. It was here that Sgt Darren Cole became the first of twenty-seven Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipients by single-handedly knocking out five pillboxes armed with just a pistol and grenades, before he himself was killed by a hand grenade. Finally, on the extreme right, Colonel John R Lanigan's 25th Regiment (4th Marine Division) advanced straight ahead to avoid the immediate danger from the high ground of the Quarry to their right.

As the day wore on, the Marines continued to advance slowly with a number of tanks from the 4th Tank Battalion pressing inland and only halting after they had reached a large minefield. The 3/25 (Lt Col Justice M Chambers) turned right and began their assault on the Quarry in the afternoon. Japanese resistance was strong and casualties were heavy. The 28th Marines continued to consolidate their positions at the base of Mount Suribachi and were reinforced by a number of Sherman tanks that gave invaluable help in destroying a number of pillboxes and by evening, Mount Suribachi had been securely isolated from the rest of the island. An assault on the volcano would come soon enough. The 27th and 25th Marines gradually extricated themselves from the beaches and started to make their way towards Airfield No. 1 while Seebees (from CB - Construction Battalion) performed miracles on the beaches clearing away the debris to allow the following waves to continue landing (Turner had had to halt the landings as the beaches had become too congested) and carving routes out of the terraces. Most of the Seebees were volunteers from the civilian construction industry and were in their 40s or 50s. Hence the Marine joke: "Protect your Seebees. One of them could be your dad." Despite this they suffered heavy casualties on D-Day. Eventually the Marines reached the southern perimeter of Airfield No. 1 where the Japanese mounted a fierce defence and settled in for the night. The Japanese on the other hand were adept at night-time infiltration tactics and continually sought to probe for weaknesses in the Marine line while keeping a constant barrage of artillery fire.

D+1: 20 February 1945

". . . Iwo Jima can only be described as a nightmare in hell." Robert Sherrod, Combat Correspondent for Time-Life

Bad weather and strong winds produced a four-foot surf that disrupted the follow-on landings. It ecame so bad that even the larger landing ships, such as LSTs and LSMs had difficulty in maintaining position on the beach. Cables tied to wrecked or abandoned equipment such as LVTs or tanks simply snapped under the strain. Smaller craft had even worse time of it, and as a result, Schmidt's desire to land a regiment (21st under Colonel Hartnoll J Withers) from the 3rd Marine Division (Major General Graves B Erskine) could not be accomplished. Meanwhile, the 28th Marines were now faced with the prospect of having to storm Mount Suribachi while the remainder of the assault force looked to continuing the advance to capture Airfields Nos. 1 and 2. The 28th Marines, under the cover of naval gunfire and carrier airstrikes started to advance on a broad front but by noon had only advanced some 75 yards in the face of a fierce defence by the Japanese. Even though a number of tanks had become available to support the advance, the Japanese still held an enormous height advantage in their well-concealed positions. The Marines therefore dug in to await reinforcements and additional support to continue the attack the next day. The Japanese were determined that the Americans should have no respite and commenced an artillery barrage all along the front.

Meanwhile, the other three regiments commenced their attack towards Airfield No. 1 with the right flank anchored on the Quarry and the left flank swinging northeast to straighten the line. Additional support arrived in the afternoon in the form of the brand new battleship, the USS Washington, which commenced bombardment of the Quarry with its 16in guns and caused a number of landslides, which blocked several caves. Despite fierce resistance, the Marines had captured most of Airfield No. 1 by mid-afternoon and had straightened their line out, although they had still not reached the intended D-Day 0-1 line. This was a blow to Kuribayashi who had not expected such a rapid advance, but he took comfort that the Marines had yet to reach his main defensive line and the bad weather was still hampering operations. As the second day drew to a close, heavy rain began to fall adding to the Marines' misery.

D+2: 21 February 1945

"Each man should think of his defence position as his graveyard, fight until the last and inflict much damage to the enemy." Lt General Tadamichi Kuribayashi

Despite the weather conditions, which continued into Wednesday, the 28th Marines planned to begin their final assault on Mount Suribachi while the remainder, from west to east, the 28th, 27th, 23rd and 24th Marines, would advance northwards across a broad front. Even such simple plans however, rarely develop as the commander wants and the weather quickly deteriorated to such a point that Admiral Turner was forced to close the beaches down again to everything except emergency traffic. The bad weather also disrupted the Marines' assault, which began at 08.00 as it turned the soft volcanic ash into a sticky glue-like substance that hampered all movement. The 28th Marines launched their attack on Mount Suribachi at 08.45 and were supported by an intense artillery barrage, naval gunfire and airstrikes. The advance met heavy opposition as well as the Marines' own barbed wire obstacles as it was assumed that tanks would be available from the start but were delayed due to fuelling problems. The late arrival of tanks and half-tracks mounting 75mm guns helped their progress and the Marines gradually advanced around the base of the volcano. The 4th and 5th Marine Divisions started their advance northward supported by artillery, naval gunfire and carrier aircraft and ran into a network of well-hidden pillboxes and bunkers. The 5th Marine Division made reasonable progress supported by tanks and finally reached the D-Day 0-1 line but the 4th Marine Division could only advance some fifty yards in the rugged terrain around the Quarry and was suffering heavy casualties as it gradually cleared out the Japanese caves, pillboxes, bunkers, tunnels and blockhouses.

General Schmidt once again disembarked the 21st Marines (3rd Marine Division) and with a lull in the weather, they managed to land on Yellow Beach. Late in the day, the ships of the Task Force became the target of one of the earliest kamikaze attacks of the war. Around fifty Japanese aircraft from the 2nd Milate Special Attack Unit (Katori Airbase), having refuelled at Hachijo Jima (125 miles south of Tokyo), approached the Task Force from the northwest. They were picked up on radar by the USS Saratoga, which could only dispatch six fighters as it was waiting to land aircraft. The fighters managed to shoot down two Zeros but a number continued through the low cloud and ploughed into the Saratoga with two hitting the side of the ship turning the hangers into a fireball while another crashed through the flight deck about 100 yards from the bow. Fire control teams battled hard to bring the fires under control and the carrier, under escort, limped back to Pearl Harbor, playing no further part in the Pacific Campaign. Her aircraft were recovered by the USS Wake Island and USS Natoma Bay. Another aircraft, a 'Betty' twin-engined bomber, hit the USS Bismarck Sea while its flight deck was crowded with aircraft and the ensuing explosion caused uncontrollable fires. The crew abandoned ship and a few minutes later an explosion blew off the entire stern of the ship. She rolled over and sank. Three other ships (USS Lurga Point, USS Keokuk and LST 477) were also damaged in the attack and 358 men were killed. It would be a foretaste of the carnage that was to happen off Okinawa, accentuated by the American practice of fitting wooden flight decks on their carriers. The three Royal Navy aircraft carriers of Task Force 57 that participated in the invasion of Okinawa were able to continue operations after such kamikaze attacks despite suffering damage, due to the British use of reinforced steel flight decks, a practice the US Navy took up after World War Two after their experience of the kamikaze.

D+3: 22 February 1945

"The Americans are beginning to climb the first terraces towards our defences. Now they shall taste our steel and lead." Col Kanehiko Atsuchi, Cmdr, Mount Suribachi

Thursday saw no improvement in the weather and so the 28th Marines prepared to slog it out with the Japanese defenders (Colonel Atsuchi still having some 8 - 900 men) as the Sherman tanks were mired in mud and the Navy decided it could not provide close air support. Throughout the day the Marines attacked the Japanese positions on the lower slopes of Mount Suribachi but there was little room for manoeuvre and it was difficult to se fire support from tanks and artillery to best advantage as the lines were so close. By mid-afternoon the Marines had surrounded the base after heavy fighting and many Japanese were moving through the Marine lines by means of the extensive tunnel network to join Kuribayashi's forces in the north. Those that remained were moving back up the volcano to the higher slopes. The final assault would have to wait.

Truck-mounted 4.5in Rocket Launchers on Iwo Jima
4.5in Rocket Launchers
on Iwo Jima
The advance to the north continued with Schmidt placing the 21st Marines (3rd Marine Division) in the centre of the line between the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions just in front of Airfield No. 2 where Colonel Masuo Ikeda's 145th Infantry Regiment manned the strongest part of the Japanese defences. The 21st Marines had a baptism of fire as they attacked towards the southern end of the airfield and the day's gains were a mere 250 yards (229m). Many units were now suffering the effects of the bad weather, lack of sleep, a lack of regular hot food and heavy casualties. O the far right of the line, the 3/25 under 'Jumpin' Joe' Chambers continued to attack the Quarry, utilising rocket firing trucks and the Japanese mounted a series of counterattacks that were repulsed with difficulty. The weather continued to get worse as the icy rain and thick mist prevented the Navy from providing any support and so the fighting died down. The weather was also hampering the evacuation of casualties, as LSTs could not land on the beaches. The 4th Marine Division's cemetery was inaugurated near Airfield No. 1. Lt Gen Holland M Smith was counting the cost meanwhile of three days of battle with the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions suffering 4,574 casualties and the 0-1 line was only now being approached. Although the Americans didn't know it, worse was yet to come.

D+4: 23 February 1945

"Those of us who are left fully realise that our hopes of repelling the Americans or living to return to our homeland and loved ones are out of the question. We are doomed. But we will fight to the last man." Major Yonomata

The weather improved greatly and so Maj Gen Harry Schmidt and Maj Gen Clifton Cates moved their headquarters ashore (Maj Gen Keller Rockey coming ashore the previous day). They decided the let the 3rd Marine Division maintain the centre with the 5th on its left flank and the 4th on the right flank. The Navy would continue to provide support and the tanks of all three divisions would be combined into a single command under Lt Col William Collins (5th Marine Division). A major offensive would be commenced the next day in an attempt to break the stalemate, but for the time being, D+4 would be a day of consolidation and replenishment. The exception to this was around Mount Suribachi. With the improvement in the weather the 28th Marines mounted a final assault and finding opposition surprisingly light, sent out a forty man patrol under Lt Hal Schrier, which moved up the northern slopes towards the summit and engaged a number of Japanese who attacked them with hand grenades. Finally at 10.20hrs the Stars and Stripes were raised on a length of pipe with Leatherneck photographer Lou Lowery recording the moment. The shout quickly went around the southern half of the island "the flag is up!" and troops cheered while vessels sounded their sirens. At around noon, a larger flag replaced the smaller one and the moment was recorded by Associated Press cameraman Joe Rosenthal and has since become one of the most famous pictures of World War II (see historical note below). D+5: 24 February 1945

"This is like fighting on a pool table." 1st Lt Raoul J Archambault, K Co, 3/21

The American offensive reopened with a huge barrage all along the frontline, which included the battleship USS Idaho and the cruiser USS Pensacola. The attack was spearheaded by the 21st Marines (3rd Marine Division) who were located between the two airfields who were to be supported my tanks. But Colonel Ikeda had anticipated this and had laid a large number of mines along the taxiways of both airfields and had covered them with antitank guns. The first two tanks were disabled by mines and so it was down to the Marines to take out the bunkers and pillboxes with explosives and flamethrowers. The Marines charged the high ground in a scene reminiscent from World War 1 and many of the Japanese rose to meet them in a frenzy of close quarter combat. The Marines gradually overcame Japanese resistance and occupied the high ground, but were dangerously short of ammunition. However, they were resupplied by the redoubtable Seebees who came forward in tractors towing loaded trailers of food, water and ammunition. On the right flank, the 24th Marines (4th Marine Division) were fighting for an escarpment just south of the main runway of Airfield No. 2 called 'Charlie Dog Ridge'. The Marines fought and battled their way to the top suffering serious casualties in the process. This finally brought the Marines to the 0-1 line, although less than half the island had been captured and the battle would have a long way to run.

D+6: 25 February 1945

"In the last and final analysis, it is the guy with the rifle and machine gun who wins and pays the penalty to preserve our liberty." James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy

Sunday was to be no day of rest for the Marines. The attack to the north across the plateau towards the unfinished Airfield No. 3 and the village of Motoyama would continue to not only split the enemy in two, but put the Marines in a position to clear the western side of the island which had accessible beaches that were desperately needed in order to clear the backlog of supplies and equipment still on transports. With Operation Iceberg (the invasion of Okinawa) only two months off these transports would be urgently required for that but at the moment could not unload as the Japanese still held the commanding heights near to Airfield No. 2 from which they could shell the western beaches. Despite this, the southern end of the island was now a hive of activity with over 2,000 Seebees rebuilding and converting the runways of Airfield No. 1 so it could handle B-29 Superfortresses, P-51 Mustangs and P-61 Black Widow night fighters. On the coast by Mount Suribachi, a seaplane base was being built to handle the Catalina and Coronado flying boats that would undertake rescue missions between Marianas and Japan, while a huge collection of Nissan huts, tents, workshops, supply dumps and equipment stockpiles had sprung up on ground that had seen bloody combat only a short time ago.

US Marines supported by Sherman tank, Iwo Jima
US Marines supported
by Sherman tank, Iwo Jima

The advance in the centre reopened with the 9th Marines, having taken over from the 21st Marines, attacking towards the high ground at one end of Airfield No. 2 supported by some 26 Sherman tanks as well as artillery, naval gunfire and air support. They immediately ran into a fusillade of antitank, mortar and artillery fire and three tanks were quickly knocked out. The 9th Marines were to find out the hard way about the ferocity of the Japanese defence. The main defensive feature was a 360ft rocky ridge named 'Hill Peter'. The 1st Battalion repeatedly stormed the hill but could only advance some 200yds. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions had better luck and advanced to the north around 'Hill Peter', which remained in enemy hands. The 5th Marine Division was around 400yds ahead of the 3rd on the left flank and so could afford to spend the time consolidating its position and wait for the 3rd to catch up. On the right flank, the 4th Marine Division faced a collection of four formidable defensive positions just to the east of Airfield No. 2 that would collectively become known as the 'Meatgrinder'. The first was Hill 382 (named after the elevation above sea level) that had an extensive collection of pillboxes, caves, dug-in tanks, enfiladed artillery positions and bunkers on it. Four hundred yards to the south lay a shallow depression known as the 'Amphitheater' and just to the east of that was a hill called the 'Turkey Knob' on top of which was a huge blockhouse and an observation post. The fourth obstacle was the village of Minami, little more than rubble-strewn ruins destroyed by naval gunfire and studied with gun emplacements. This area was defended by Maj General Senda and his 2nd Mixed Brigade that included Baron Nishi's 26th Tank Regiment, now largely fighting on foot. The 23rd and 24th Marines, knowing little of what was up ahead, initially attacked the Hill 382 but hardly advanced after fighting all day, even after tank support arrived as the Sherman tanks were finding it difficult going in the deep volcanic ash.

D+7: 26 February 1945

"Easy Company started with 310 men. We suffered 75 percent casualties. Only fifty men boarded the ship after the battle. Seven officers went into battle with me. Only one - me - walked off Iwo." Capt Dave Severence, E Company, 28th Marines.

Monday dawned bright but chilly and the American offensive started once again with the 9th Marines attacked 'Hill Peter' but were once again frustrated in their advance. On the left flank, the 5th Marine Division turned their attention to Hill 362A that was some 600yds south of the village of Nishi and surrounded by an extensive system of defences. Tanks from the 5th Tank Battalion attacked and advanced some 100yds while the 27th Marines (on the left of the 26th Marines) advanced along the west coast assisted by naval gunfire. The 25th Marines replaced the 24th Marines in the battle for Hill 382 in the 'Meatgrinder' and their initial attack advanced over 100yds before it was halted by machine gun fire from the 'Amphitheater' and 'Turkey Knob'. The 23rd Marines had moved through a minefield at the edge of the airfield and as they approached a ruined radio station at the foot of the hill, they were met by an intense artillery barrage and machine gun fire that stopped the advance in its tracks. It was obvious that the Marines had come up against the Japanese main defensive line and that the Japanese would be retreating no further.

D+8: 27 February 1945

"I am not afraid of the fighting powers of only three American Marine Divisions if there are no bombardments from aircraft and warship. This is the only reason we have to see such miserable conditions." Lt General Tadamichi Kuribayashi

Once again, the 9th Marines attacked 'Hill Peter' and 'Hill Oboe' with the 1st and 2nd Battalions advancing against intense machine gun and mortar fire. Elements of the 1st managed to reach the top but were pinned down by fire coming from bypassed position to their rear. Another concerted effort was made in the early afternoon and the beleaguered Marines were relieved with 'Hill Peter' being taken and the Marines reaching the crest of 'Hill Oboe'. Finally, Airfield No. 2 fell into American hands. On the right flank, the 4th Marine Division seemed to be bogged down against the formidable defences of the 'Meatgrinder'. Five battalions were committed against the 'Turkey Knob' and Hill 382 with support from rocket firing trucks. The battle seesawed backwards and forwards all day and at one point some Marines managed to make it to the top of the Hill but a shortage of ammunition and vicious enemy counterattacks forced them to retreat. However, the Marines managed to complete an encircling action around the base of the hill after intense close quarters combat and decided to consolidate their gains. Further north, the tanks began to find the going very tough and tankdozers (tanks with bulldozer blades fitted) were constantly in action, but the battle was beginning to turn into an infantry-based war of attrition with casualties mounting by the hour. During the night the Japanese attempted to drop supplies to the garrison. In the only attempt of the battle to support the troops on Iwo Jima a number of Japanese planes dropped some supplies, including ammunition and medical supplies. Three of the aircraft were shot down by carrier based night fighters but the attempt was a morale boost for the beleaguered garrison.

D+9: 28 February 1945

"There was nothing spectacular about the day's action, but death was everywhere and heroism was commonplace." Marine Correspondent

The last day of February saw an upturn in the fortunes of the 3rd Marine Division in the centre of the line. The 21st Marines took over from the battered 9th and under an intense naval and artillery barrage started their attack at 09.00, initially making good progress. At one point they encountered a number of 'Ha Go' tanks from baron Nishi's 26th Tank Regiment but they were dealt with relatively quickly by bazookas and supporting aircraft. By the afternoon, the Japanese had recovered and resistance became very heavy. The Marines called a second massive artillery barrage in and were soon underway again. The Marines soon entered and cleared the ruins of Motoyama village and the 3/21 continued the advance and took up position on some high ground overlooking the unfinished Airfield No. 3. Meanwhile the 1st and 2nd Battalions had to contend with a mass of bypassed positions and were soon slugging it out in close quarter fighting with demolitions and flamethrowers. Eventually however, the flanks were secured.

On the left flank, the 5th Marine Division was still confronted with Hill 362A, a veritable fortress with antitank guns, mortars, machine guns, pillboxes and bunkers. Two battalions of the 27th Marines (1st and 3rd) assaulted the hill with the support of tanks and rocket firing trucks. While some elements reached the top, they were driven back by counterattacks and the gains for the day were limited to an advance of 300yds. In an amazing display of pyrotechnics a shell hit an ammunition dump near Airfield No. 1 that lit up most of southern Iwo Jima and meant that the 5th Marine Division lost nearly a quarter of its ammunition supplies.

On the right flank, the stalemate at the 'Meatgrinder' continued with the 4th Marine Division attacking with its 25th Marines against the 'Turkey Knob'. The 1st Battalion tried to sweep around in a flanking manoeuvre but heavy fire from the Japanese defenders foiled the attempt. By late afternoon the Marines had had to pull back to the very same lines that they had started from.

D+10: 1 March 1945

"Fight the battle with the troops you have." Lt General Holland M Smith to Major General Graves B Erskine

By this point, the combat efficiency of the three Marine divisions was becoming a matter of grave concern. Many units were suffering badly from the effects of the prolonged exposure to such intense combat and in many instances command at a company level had passed from Captain to Lieutenant to Sergeant. General Erskine was concerned that an entire regiment (3rd Marines) was still onboard troopships while the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions had all their combat elements on the island. In fact, the 3rd Marines were never landed on Iwo Jima and it remained a contentious issue between Erskine and Smith for many years. Smith's reasoning has never been properly explained, although reasons for keeping the 3rd Marines back have been floated through the years such as keeping a reserve in case of a serious reversal, that Smith didn't think there was enough room on the island for another 9,000 men or that he wanted to keep a fresh formation for Okinawa. Another contentious issue was the use of battle replacements, instead of organic replacements. "The great majority of the battle replacements were recruits who had gone through Parris Island in the summer of 1944, where they fired for qualification once." (John Lane, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division)

After looking down on the unfinished Airfield No. 3, the 3rd Marine Division moved forward at first light with the 21st Marines leading the way, after a short but intense artillery barrage. Resistance was surprisingly light and as the 2nd and 3rd Battalions advanced, the 1st Battalion mopped up the bypassed enemy positions. In the afternoon, tanks moved forward to support the advance and after the Marines had advanced across the airfield they came up against the base of Hills 362B and 362C, another two strongpoints the same elevation as Hill 362A. The Marines decided to dig in and consolidate the gains of the day - some 600yds for a cost of over 200 casualties. A good day on Iwo Jima.

Meanwhile on the left flank, the 5th Marine Division's 28th Regiment was back in the line and set to attack Hill 362A. After an intense barrage, the 28th stormed the hill and took it, but the Japanese had evacuated it and established a position some 200yds further on Nishi Ridge. The rest of the day was spent mopping up bypassed positions but the cost to the effort was very high. On the right flank, the 4th Marine Division continued to concentrate their efforts on Hill 382 with the 24th Marines replacing the 23rd. The 24th Marines once again launched themselves into the attack but the advance was stalled by a hail of machine gun and mortar fire. It was helped by an intense artillery and naval gunfire barrage which kept the Japanese in their shelters but they quickly re-emerged to continue their defence and the advance stalled once again.

D+11: 2 March 1945

"Oh God, not another Ridge." Marine, 5th Marine Division.

On the right flank, the 25th Marines kept up pressure on both the 'Turkey Knob' and Hill 382. The 1st Battalion attempted pre-dawn infiltrations but they were driven back by mortar and machine gun fire. A number of Sherman tanks and flamethrower tanks (nicknamed 'Zippos') moved up in support and pounded the blockhouse at the top of the 'Turkey Knob' but the Japanese simply retired to the depths of their tunnels to wait out the barrage. The 26th Marines, after some intense fighting, managed to secure a foothold on Hill 382 (2nd Battalion) after a three-pronged attack following a short but sharp artillery barrage. In many instances artillery could not be used due to the closeness of the combatants and the Marines had to use small arms, explosives, grenades and flamethrowers to prise the Japanese out of their positions. In the centre, the hopes of the 3rd Marine Division of making a rapid dash to the sea were rapidly fading in the face of determined Japanese resistance. The division had still to take Hills 362B and C but pressed forward towards the unfinished Airfield No. 3 and the base of Hill 362B with the support of tanks. The open ground of the airfield gave virtually no cover from the Japanese artillery and the 9th Marines came up against the defences of Baron Nishi's command and progress remained slow. On the left flank, the 5th Marine Division were encountering fewer and fewer manmade obstacles as the ground became rougher and there were plenty of ravines, canyons, valleys and draws so that this natural defensive cover was all the Japanese needed. Nishi Ridge lay some 200yds beyond Hill 362A and the 5th Engineers had to come forward and fill an antitank ditch in order for the attack to proceed. The 26th and 28th Marines then had the task of clearing the remainder of Hill 362A, after which they advanced to the base of Nishi Ridge.

D+12: 3 March 1945

"Iwo Jima is the most heavily fortified and capably defended island in the world. It will be a tough fight." Vice Adm Richmond K Turner, Cmndr, Task Force 51

By this point, the Americans were in control of some two-thirds of Iwo Jima but the combat efficiency of many units was becoming an ever more pressing problem. Casualty figures were starting to assume tragic proportions with some 16,000 casualties on the American side (over 3,000 killed) with some 14,000 casualties on the Japanese side. The campaign had become one more akin to the First World War - a war of attrition. The 5th Marine Division (Maj Gen Rockey) realigned its front to include Hill 362B, thus allowing the 3rd Marine Division to concentrate on advancing to the northeast coast and attack Hill 357, some 500yds to the east. The 9th Marines advanced against an in-depth defence line of caves, pillboxes, bunkers and trenches, which forced the advance to slow to a crawl, but with tank support, the 1st and 2nd Battalions attacked and stormed Hill 357 and spent the rest of the day consolidating their positions. The 2nd Battalion even repulsed a major counterattack after intense close quarter fighting. The 5th Marine Division continued their offensive along the northwest coast with the 26th Marine attacking Hill 362B and the 28th Marines attacking Nishi Ridge. Both regiments suffered heavily (particularly the 26th) but both achieved a measure of success with the 26th reaching the summit of Hill 362B and the 28th Marines taking Nishi Ridge. It was a great boost to the division. The 4th Marine Division renewed its attacks on the 'Meatgrinder' and in attempt to gain some element of surprise, attacked without the benefit of artillery support. The 24th Marines attacked Hill 382 while the 23rd Marines assaulted the complex formed by the 'Turkey Knob', the 'Amphitheater' and Minami Village. The 24th Marines managed to advance some 350yds and surround Hill 382 but both regiments were brought to a halt by fire from the blockhouse on the 'Turkey Knob'.

D+13: 4 March 1945

"The minute we land, we're going to be in the middle of it, and we're never going to be out of it until the battle is all over . . . There isn't a safe spot on the island." Anonymous Marine

The last few days had seen good weather, but as D+13 dawned, a grey mist hung over the island and drizzle filled the sky. The air support and naval bombardments were cancelled due to poor visibility and so the Marines had to see to their own devices. The 4th Marine Division once again concentrated on the 'Meatgrinder' with tanks and rocket firing trucks taking every opportunity to blast the enemy positions in and around the 'Amphitheater'. The 5th Marine Division continued to attack in the north with the support of flamethrower tanks. The 3rd Marine Division in the centre had taken some nine days of bitter fighting to advance 3,000yds from the edge of Airfield No. 2 until their current positions. General Erskine even delayed their attack until late morning until fresh troops could be brought up, but their impact was negligible and the lines remained very similar to those at dawn. D+13 however saw the first B29 Superfortress to land on Iwo Jima - the very reason the battle was being waged. 'Dinah Might' was returning from a raid near Tokyo with her bomb bays jammed open and the reserve fuel tank transfer valve malfunctioning. Lt Raymond Malo had two choices, ditch in the sea or attempt to land on Iwo Jima. The latter option seemed the most attractive. The Superfortress circled the island twice and then put down on Airfield No. 1. The aircraft was quickly moved to the Suribachi end of the runway and repairs affected. The arrival had not gone unnoticed by the Japanese who brought a steady rate of artillery fire down on the airfield. About half-an-hour later the bomber was on it way again with a parting goodbye of weak Japanese antiaircraft fire. The floodgates were opened and very soon, Iwo Jima was taking up to twenty-five flights each day and the large-scale evacuation of wounded by air began. Lt General Kuribayashi finally realised that the Americans had firmly gained the upper hand and radioed Tokyo that the result was no longer in doubt. It was just a matter of time. What was apparent however was that many American planners had underestimated both the determination of the Japanese and the strength of their defences, just as they had done in most other Pacific battles.

D+14: 5 March 1945

"Our strongpoints may be able to fight delaying actions for several more days. Even when the strongpoints fall, we hope the survivors will continue to fight to the end." Lt General Tadamichi Kuribayashi

D+14 saw the Marine frontline run almost along the position designated for D+1. The Japanese still held an excellent advantage as, even though they were now much smaller in number and short of food, water and ammunition, the terrain to the north was very rough and provided superb defensive cover. The Motoyama Plateau, which was the flat area in the centre of the island where the third airfield had been started gave way to an almost moonlike terrain of hills, valleys, ravines and canyons. Tanks were finding the going extremely tough and every cave or hillock held a defensive position. Any movement would draw fire from a number of different directions and an advance of a couple of hundred yards was good going. The Seebees continued to work on Airfield No. 1 now secure from the worst of the enemy shelling. Around it lay a collection of huts, shacks, tents and compounds that resembled a shanty town - ground that had been so recently a bloody battlefield on a par with the Somme and Passchendaele. Despite the 5th being a day of rest for the Marines, the Japanese continued their incessant shelling. New supplies were brought up to the front, tanks and vehicles were serviced, replacements absorbed (the veterans doing what they could to prepare them for the coming onslaught) and fresh coffee and doughnuts arrived from the bakery near Airfield No. 1. Even the Army started arriving, being assigned the task of garrisoning the island once it was secure.

D+15: 6 March 1945

"There is a quiet deadly stillness in the air, the tension is strong, everyone is waiting. Some will die - how many, no one knows. God knows, enough have died already." Dale Worley (diary)

The day's pre-assault bombardment was one of the heaviest so far in the battle for Iwo Jima with some 132 guns firing some 22,500 shells in just over an hour. Added to that, a battleship, a cruiser and three destroyers added some 450 shells while Corsairs and Dauntless carried out ground attacks with bombs and napalm. The assault was staggered with the 5th Marine Division in the west attacking at 8.00am while the 4th Marine Division in the east attacked at 9.00am. Resistance was as strong as ever. The 27th Marines (5th Division) and 21st Marines (3rd Division) attacked in the west but soon ran into trouble despite being supported by flamethrower tanks. An element of the 21st Marines led by Lt William Mulvey reached the top of another ridge, to see what General Schmidt had been after for so long - the sea. The ocean was no more than a quarter of a mile away but the Japanese decided to remind the Americans that a quarter of a mile could still be a long way by pinning them down with mortar and machine gun fire. Although reinforcements tried to get through they were beaten back and Mulvey and his group had to wait until later in the day until they could make their way back to their lines. The day had seen advances of on average, around 200yds, the best being 350yds by 3/24. Even the Army joined in, with the 506th Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion shelling enemy positions on Kangoku and Kama Rocks, two groups of small islands situated 1.5 and 0.5 miles off the northwest coast.

D+16: 7 March 1945

"After we had advanced about seventy-five yards, I observed a dark, jagged rock formation directly to our front. All hell broke loose after we had advanced another twenty yards or so. Intense machine gun fire and grenades seemed to be the order of the day." Lt O'Bannon, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines

In order to break the stalemate, General Erskine planned to have the 9th Marines undertake an attack in the early hours of D+16. It would be spearheaded by the 3rd Battalion under Lt Col Harold Boehm with the 1st (Major William Glass) and 2nd (Lt Col Robert E Cushman) Battalions making diversionary attacks to their right. The objective was to advance straight ahead and capture Hill 362C, the last obstacle between the 3rd Marine Division and the sea. The Marines moved out at 05.00 (after the Navy had inadvertently fired a starshell) with a smokescreen to cover their movement. All went well for some thirty minutes as the Marines bypassed enemy positions but an observant machine gunner opened up on the left flank. Although he was swiftly dealt with, the Japanese were now aware something was afoot and began to mount increasing resistance. At 06.00, Boehm radioed that his men were at the top of Hill 362C, many enemy positions had been eliminated and casualties were light. Erskine was delighted. The euphoria was short-lived however, as Boehm realised that they were in fact on Hill 331 not Hill 362C, which was another 250yds further on. He decided to press forward now that their position was known and although Japanese resistance was fierce, both in front and from a number of bypassed positions, the Marines burned and blasted their way onwards and by 14.00 elements of K Company had reached the objective.

The other two battalions had also achieved surprise, but by 07.30 Japanese resistance had become so fierce that the two battalions had been cut off. They had unfortunately stumbled across the remains of Baron Nishi's 26th Tank Regiment, a crack outfit. Tanks were brought up to try and extricate the two units but were repeatedly defeated by the terrain. B Co / 1st Btn managed to extricate themselves at dusk with many Marines carrying wounded comrades on their backs. The company commander, Lt John Leims, himself rescued many of his men in the growing darkness, for which he received the Medal of Honor. Two of Colonel Cushman's companies remained surrounded in the pocket (hence the nickname 'Cushman's Pocket') and had to remain in place until the following day.

The 5th Marine Division saw a steady advance with the 26th Marines advancing north of Nishi Village. As the advance elements topped a ridge they were surprised by the lack of resistance that they encountered. At that moment the Japanese blew up their local command post in an explosion that demolished the ridge and was heard clearly as far away as Mount Suribachi. It killed some forty-three Marines and wounded many others. The 28th Marines made steady progress in the rough terrain near the coast and managed to advance some 500yds, supported by gunfire from destroyers. The 4th Marine Division deployed its 23rd and 24th Marine Regiments to the east where they swung to the south moving the enemy towards the 25th Marines. Trapped between them were the 1,500 troops of General Senda and Captain Inouye (Imperial Japanese Navy). Seeing the hopelessness of the situation the two officers led a banzai charge (which was forbidden by Lt General Kuribayashi) which managed to reach the Marine lines where fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place into the early hours.

D+17: 8 March 1945

"We cannot hallow this ground - the brave men living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our powers to add or detract." Abraham Lincoln

The day saw steady if not spectacular progress. The 3rd Marine Division still had 'Cushman's Pocket' to overcome, the 4th Marine Division was still battling for the 'Turkey Knob' while the 5th Marine Division continued its advance northeast. A Japanese rocket found its mark on the 2/23 Command Post killing the communications officer and wounding six others. Two Marines won the Medal of Honor - Pfc James LaBelle who threw himself on a hand grenade to save his comrades and Lt Jack Lummus, a former professional football player, who knocked out two enemy emplacements single handed. In urging his men forward however, he stepped on a mine and lost both legs. He continued to urge his men on before being taken back to the 5th Marine Division hospital where he sadly died from shock and loss of blood. Before leaving Camp Pendleton in California for Hawaii, Jack had been dating Mary Hartman, a Nebraska girl who had moved to Hollywood to work. They planned to marry upon his return. She finally returned to his hometown of Ennis, Texas in 1987. "I follow a rock road through Ennis Myrtle Cemetery. I spotted a small replica of the Medal of Honor next to a flat tombstone. On the granite was engraved Jack's name and the dates October 22nd 1912 - March 8th 1945. Once a year now I visit the grave. A gnarled old elm tree shades me as I sit remembering. When I leave, I place a single rose on the grave marker. I have found Jack at last."

D+18: 9 March 1945

"When you go home, tell them of us and say: 'For their tomorrows, we gave our todays.'" John Maxwell Edmonds

Finally, the breakthrough came on D+18 when a 28-man patrol led by Lt Paul Connally reached the northeast coast. The men stood and stared, hardly believing that they had finally split the Japanese into two. Connally filled his canteen with seawater and sent it to his CO, Colonel Withers who passed it onto General Erskine. The cost to get this far for the 3rd Marine Division had been enormous - over 3,500 casualties. That night, the first major firebombing raid by B29 Superfortresses from the Marianas took place over Tokyo. Around a quarter of Tokyo's buildings were destroyed, just over 1 million people were left homeless, over 83,000 people were killed and almost 41,000 wounded.

D+19: 10 March 1945

"The enemy's bombardments are very severe, especially the bombing and machine gun fire against Divisional Headquarters - so fierce that I cannot express or write it here. The troops are still fighting bravely and holding their positions thoroughly." Lt General Tadamichi Kuribayashi

It was now clear that the battle was reaching its finale with the Japanese forces now divided but still resisting bitterly in Cushman's Pocket and the Meatgrinder. They were however being ground down but in the northeast, where Lt General Kuribayashi had made is headquarters was Japanese resistance still as effective as ever. This was to be the last section of the island to fall and the Marines had already nicknamed the area 'The Gorge' or 'Death Valley' and some 1,500 Japanese were still deeply entrenched in their positions. Kuribayashi had predicted the battle to perfection and waited for the Marines to come and dig him out.

D+20 - D+35: 11 March 1945 - 26 March 1945

"The fight is still raging. It has developed into hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets and grenades." Dale Worley

As the final part of the campaign on Iwo Jima began, the War Department released the up-to-date casualty figures in the United States. Needless to say, they caused consternation in America and fuelled the rhetoric of the pro-MacArthur lobby. In an attempt to placate public opinion, the island was declared secure on the 14 March 1945 in a ceremony many saw as cynically premature. As one Marine put it, "if this damn place has been secured, where the hell is all this gunfire coming from?" Even the words of General Schmidt's personal officer were drowned out by an artillery barrage directed against 'Cushman's Pocket'. The Japanese had been confined to three areas - 'Cushman's pocket', 'The Gorge' and the east coast. The bulk of the fighting would be done by Marine infantry with flamethrowers, explosives and small arms against a desperate Japanese defence. The bulk of the Navy left for Guam, while the air support was continued by the P51 Mustangs with their machine guns, bombs and rockets. Airfield No. 1 was very busy with the evacuation of the wounded and transportation of replacements gradually ceding priority to the landing of damaged B29 Superfortresses. There was even a rumour that the war in Europe had ended, but this was quickly revealed to be a hoax.

The 3rd Marine Division slowly ground down the defenders in 'Cushman's Pocket' during fierce fighting. Baron Nishi, who it is believed, had been partially blinded during the fighting, led a determined resistance against the Marines with dug-in tanks and fortified caves until resistance finally ended on 16 March. The fate of Baron Nishi remains unclear as his body was never identified and none of his staff remained alive to tell what happened.

The 4th Marine Division continued to battle General Senda, who held a small area of land between the village of Higashi and the coast with a few hundred men. The Americans tried to arrange for loudspeakers to broadcast to the Japanese to appeal to them to lay down their arms and prevent anymore needless bloodshed, but the generators failed to work and the Marines had to dig the Japanese out one-by-one suffering heavy casualties in the process. The struggle lasted four more days while the body of General Senda was never found.

Meanwhile the 5th Marine Division regrouped and prepared to take on the last major bastion of Japanese resistance on the island - 'The Gorge'. On the 17 March, Admiral Nimitz issued a bulletin stating that Iwo Jima was now secure and Japanese resistance was at an end. Of course, this didn't go down to well with the Marines - "This morning the island was officially secured. They ran the flag up at the base of Hot Rocks. We are still fighting, but it's called 'mopping up operations'." (Dale Worley) In fact another nine days of bloody fighting were ahead along with almost 2,000 casualties. 'The Gorge' was in fact only some 700yds long and 3 - 500yds wide but Lt General Kuribayashi had concentrated the remains of his garrison there (around 500 men) and prepared his last stand.

The 28th Marines took up position on the cliffs overlooking 'The Gorge' while the remainder of the division attacked in the centre and from the east. In brutal fighting, the Marines gradually forced the Japanese back into a smaller and smaller pocket of resistance. The cost was staggering though, with the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 27th Marines badly mauled (the 2nd was in fact withdrawn) in the struggle. A huge blockhouse barred the way for quite a time despite repeated pounding by tanks and demolition reams and it finally took an explosive charge of some 8,500lbs to destroy it. On D+32 (23 March 1945), a final message was received by Major Horie on Chichi Jima: "All officers and men of Chichi Jima - goodbye from Iwo."

By the end of D+33, the Japanese had been squeezed into an area of around fifty square yards and the final act in a long and drawn out saga was approaching. The Americans once again tried to persuade the Japanese to surrender but to no avail. With the fighting gradually coming to an end, the remaining few defenders from 'The Gorge' and positions along the west coast, around 2 - 300 in number silently infiltrated the American lines in the early hours of 26 March and headed for the bivouac area not far from Airfield No. 2. Led by sword wielding officers and armed with an assortment of machine guns, rifles and grenades, the Japanese launched a well-planned and coordinated three-pronged attack, not a last-ditch banzai charge, against a mixture of Marine shore parties, Air Force crewmen, AA gunners and Seebees. The Japanese attacked them with determination and the noise from the confrontation brought Marines from nearby Pioneer Battalions and an all-Negro shore party. Lt Harry Martin of the 5th Pioneer Battalion organised a hasty defence line, rushed into the fight to rescue wounded men and launched a counterattack that momentarily repelled the attackers. The Japanese however returned with an even greater fury an in the confused melee, other American personnel came and joined the frantic struggle. Lt Martin was also killed, earning him the final Medal of Honor of the battle. By dawn a detachment from the Army's 147th Infantry had arrived on the scene with tanks but by then it was mostly over. The daylight revealed some 44 airmen killed, another 88 injured, 9 Marines killed, another 31 wounded. Of the Japanese attackers, some 262 lay dead with another 18 captured. Even though it was rumoured that General Kuribayashi (he had been promoted to full General on the 17 March) had led the charge, his body was never found.

As the Marines began to leave Iwo, many felt these emotions, "I stood on the rail of the ship as it pulled out. As we left I thought of my friends that had fallen and were buried there. I felt like we were leaving them back there alone, that we were deserting them. We are Marines, fighting men, that are supposed to be hard, with no feelings, but we have them. We talk of our fallen buddies as though they were transferred - we sound indifferent, but when we are alone we would cry. A buddy is something precious, and to lose that buddy is a hard blow."


"Among the Americans who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue." Admiral Chester Nimitz, CINCPAC

With the final attack on the 26 March, organised Japanese resistance was finally at an end. Fighting would continue in small skirmishes well into June when the last few Japanese were captured (such as Lt Musashino, commander of the 2nd Mixed Brigade's Pioneer Company) by the US Army. Airfield No. 2 was expanded and the infrastructure of the island greatly improved. In the last few months of the war, the island underlined the reason for its capture as P51 Mustangs joined the B29 Superfortresses on the final leg of their journey to Japan and some 2,400 Superfortresses, with crews totalling over 70,000 landed on the island who might have otherwise have had to ditch in the sea.

The Americans had completely underestimated the timescale and cost of the operation as well as the determination and preparedness of the enemy. What had been envisaged as a short, decisive battle became the costliest battle in the history of the US Marine Corps and the role played by Lt General Kuribayashi cannot be underestimated in this. He had planned the defence of the island and foreseen how the campaign would unfold to perfection and was the only commander to inflict greater casualties on the Marines than what was suffered by the garrison The Marines suffered some 23,157 casualties (5,885 killed) and the US Navy suffered some 2,798 casualties (881 killed). For the Japanese, out of an estimated garrison strength of 21,060 personnel, some 216 Navy and 867 Army personnel were taken prisoner, leaving one to conclude that 19,977 were killed. Twenty-seven American personnel (22 Marines, 4 Navy corpsmen and 1 Naval Officer) received the Medal of Honor (13 posthumously), a third of the total awarded to the US Marine Corps in World War Two. The intensity of the combat on Iwo Jima was a stern warning of what was to come on Okinawa and what may well have awaited the Allies in an invasion of the Japanese mainland. Such an operation was already in its advanced planning stages, had been codenamed Operation Downfall and was due to take place in November 1945, the initial phase of which (itself codenamed Operation Olympic) was the island of Honshu. The enormity of the final casualty lists from Iwo Jima made it a priority that if an alternative means of ending the war could be found, then it should be pursued. That means came in the form of the Manhattan Project and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese formerly surrendered on the battleship USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945. The Second World War had finally come to an end.

"When you go home, tell them of us and say: 'For their tomorrows, we gave our todays'."John Maxwell Edmonds

Bibliography and Further Reading

Closing In - Marines in the Seizure of Iwo Jima , Alexander, Joseph H., Marine Corps Historical Centre, Washington DC, 1994. [see more..] cover cover cover
Alexander, Joseph H. Storm Landings, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1997. A detailed account of the major amphibious assaults of the Pacific War. cover cover cover
Iwo Jima and Okinawa , Black, Wallace B. , Prentice Hall, London, 1993 cover cover cover
Flags of our Fathers , Bradley, James. , Pimlico, London, 2000 cover cover cover
Eagle Against The Sun, Spector, Ronald, Cassell Military, London, 2001. cover cover cover
A World at Arms : A Global History of World War II , Weinberg, Gerhard L, Cambridge University Press, 1994 cover cover cover
World War II , Matanle, Ivor, Godalming, 1995 (Second Edition). cover cover cover
cover The Pacific Campaign , Vat, Dan van der, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1991. cover cover cover
Iwo Jima, 1945 , Wright, Derrick, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2001, Campaign Series No. 81 cover cover cover
The Battle for Iwo Jima , Wright, Derrick, Sutton Publishing, London, 1999 cover cover cover
Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor , Ross, Bill D. , Vintage Books, New York, 1986 cover cover cover
Iwo Jima , Newcombe, Richard F., Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, 1965 cover cover cover
Never in Doubt: Remembering Iwo Jima , Kessler, Lynn. (Ed) , Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1999. cover cover cover
Marshall, Don. 'Iwo Jima' in After the Battle, Number 82, pp. 1 - 37.
'Iwo Jima: A Look Back'
US Marine Corps in World War II
Welcome to Marine Corps History' Webpage, part of the official US Marine Corps Website

Historical Note: The picture of the Stars and Stripes

The picture of the Stars and Stripes being raised on Mount Suribachi on 23 February 1945 is one of the most famous pictures of World War Two. It was taken by Associated Press photographer, Joe Rosenthal. There has always been speculation as to its authenticity as it was in fact the second flag raised that day, and a statement by Rosenthal himself, saying that he had taken a posed photograph on the summit that day. In a letter to the author Derrick Wright, Rosenthal pointed him to the account he gave in 1955 of the incident (recounted in The Battle for Iwo Jima 1945, Appendix 2). He was attached to the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines and landed on Iwo Jima around noon of D-Day. He was to remain on Iwo for eleven days taking some sixty-five photographs, occasionally returning to the USS Eldorado to write captions and dispatch photos via the daily seaplane to Guam. After taking a photograph of 'Howlin' Mad' Smith and Secretary of the Navy James V Forrestal looking towards the beach, Rosenthal boarded an LCT with Bill Hipple, a magazine correspondent. Upon reaching the beach they were told that a patrol from the 28th Marines was due to go up Suribachi with a flag, following other patrols that had gone up earlier. When the two reached the 28th Marines Command Post they were informed that the patrol had already left. Already there were Bob Campbell, a combat photographer and Sergeant Bill Genaust, a cine photographer. The group set off, pausing occasionally while Marines fought by-passed Japanese emplacements. They met Lou Lowery, a photographer for Leatherneck, who informed them that the flag had already been raised at 10.20am on a piece of pipe from the wrecked Japanese radar station and that he had taken a photograph. The flag was from the USS Missoula and had been carried by the Battalion Adjutant. Rosenthal decided to carry on and take a photograph anyway. As they reached the summit, they saw the flag flying and a group of Marines dragging a much longer piece of pipe. When asked what they were doing, they responded that they were going to hoist a much larger Stars and Stripes up on this longer piece of pipe and keep the other as a souvenir. This flag had come from LST 779, which was beached near the base of the volcano and was given to the Marines by Ensign Alan Wood, confirmed in a letter to Derrick Wright. Colonel Dave Severence (at the time a Captain in E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines) also confirmed that Rosenthal had followed the detail up Mount Suribachi and not gone up with them and was not aware of the second flag until he arrived. Rosenthal thought about getting a shot of the two flags together but could get a clear enough shot, and it was Bob Campbell who managed to snap the event. He decided he would snap the moment of the second flag going up and backed off around thirty-five feet. Unfortunately, the ground sloped away quite sharply and his view was blocked at that distance, being only 5' 5" tall. He made use of a sandbag and some stones to make a platform and set his camera between f8 and f11 at a speed of 1/400 second. Bill Genaust took up position just to his right with a cine camara, shouting to Rosenthal that the Marines had started to raise the flag. Both men took their shots. Afterwards, Rosenthal took a number of other photos (including a posed one of the Marines cheering around the flag). Rosenthal looked at his watch for the first time when he reached the 28th Marines' Command Post. It was a little after 13.00. Rosenthal subsequently packed them off to Guam with some captions, where they were processed by Picture Pool Coordinator Murray Befeler and sent to the US mainland, where the flag-raising picture became a sensation. Rosenthal didn't see it until some nine days after it was taken when he returned to Guam. A correspondent walked up to him and congratulated him on the shot. The correspondent asked if he had posed it, Rosenthal confirming that he had, thinking that the guy was referring to the photograph of the Marines waiving and cheering. Another correspondent came up to him with the photo of the flag going up and Rosenthal was quite taken aback but corrected his mistake by pointing out that he hadn't posed that one. The congratulations started, as did the misunderstandings as another correspondent only overheard the first part of the conversation and wrote that the picture was a posed one. Rosenthal was now a celebrity and on his return to the US met President Truman and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for photography. Even though the photograph was owned by Associated Press, they generously gave over all proceeds for ten years to the Navy Relief Society (over $12m). The picture has become one of the most reproduced photographs of all time, with the final accolade being its reproduction by Felix de Weldon as a hundred ton bronze statue that stands at the northern end of Arlington National Cemetery as a memorial to the US Marine Corps. As Rosenthal himself says: "What difference does it make who took the picture? I took it, but the Marines took Iwo Jima."

Historical Note: The six flag raisers in the picture are (left to right) Pfc Ira Hayes, Pfc Franklin Sously, Sgt Michael Strank, Pharmacist's Mate 2nd Class John H Bradley, Pfc Rene A Gagnon and Cpl Harlon H Block. Sousley, Strank and Block were tragically killed on Iwo Jima.

Historical Note: The Marine Corps does not distinguish the combat and combat support regiments by military occupational speciality, i.e. infantry, artillery, armour etc. They are all simply referred to as Marines.
How to cite this article: Antill, P. (6 April 2001), The Battle for Iwo Jima, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_iwojima.html

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