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Battle of Iwo Jima

History - Military history -- List of battles -- World War II

On February 19, 1945 about 30,000 United States Marines of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions, under V Amphibious Corps, landed on Iwo Jima and a battle for the island commenced. The landing was called Operation Detachment.

Following the US victory, a group of US Marines reached the top of Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945 and raised the US flag using an old water pipe for a flagpost. They were persuaded to re-enact the event shortly afterwards by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal. Of the six men pictured (Michael Strank, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, John Bradley, and Harlon Block) only three (Hayes, Gagnon, and Bradley) survived the battle. The photo later won a Pulitzer Prize and is the subject of the USMC War Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Their story is told by Bradley's son James in Flags of Our Fathers

The battle ended on March 16, 1945 but small pockets of Japanese resistance persisted.

"Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue" -- Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

Sands of Iwo Jima, starring John Wayne, is a war movie set during the battle of Iwo Jima.

Table of contents
1 Background of the Battle
2 Invasion of Iwo Jima
3 Securing the Island
4 The Photo

Background of the Battle

In the opening days of 1945, Japan faced the prospect of invasion by the Allied Forces. Daily bomber raids from the Marianas hit the mainland in an operation called Scavenger. Fighters and Kamikaze at Iwo Jima provided a measure of defense. Eventually the Allies would have to take Iwo Jima, part of the Japanese homeland for over 600 years. The Japanese were ready. The island was garrisoned by 22,000 soldiers and fortified in a network of underground bunkers.

The defense of Iwo Jima was to exact such a price on Allied Forces as to discourage invasion of the mainland. Each defender was expected to die in defense of the homeland, taking 10 enemy soldiers in the process.

The Allies, led by the United States of America, wanted Iwo Jima not only to neutralize threats to its bombers and shipping, but to use its airfields for fighter escort and emergency bomber landings. On February 16, 1945, they commenced a three-day air and gun assault on the island with unprecedented ferocity, but little effect on the sheltered garrison of Japanese troops.

Invasion of Iwo Jima

At 2 AM on the morning of February 19, battleship guns signaled the commencement of D-Day. Soon 100 bombers attacked the island, followed by another volley from the naval guns. At 8:30, Marines disembarked toward the shores of Iwo Jima. Their objective -- Suribachi Mountain, at the south of the island, which guarded the beaches.

The Marines faced heavy fire from Suribachi and inhospitable terrain, rough volcanic ash which allowed neither secure footing or the digging of a foxhole. They were sitting ducks. Still, by that evening, the mountain had been surrounded and 30,000 Marines had landed. About 40,000 more would follow.

The climb up Suribachi was fought by the yard. Gunfire was ineffective against the Japanese, but flame throwers and grenades cleared the bunkers. Finally, on February 23, the summit had been reached. The erection of the US flag that day proved an inspiration not only to the combatants but to a grateful nation for years to come.

Securing the Island

With the landing area secure, more Marines and heavy equipment were landed and the invasion proceeded north to capture the airfields and the remainder of the island. Iwo Jima was declared secure on March 26. As commanded, the Japanese defended the homeland to the death. Of over 20,000 defenders, only 1,000 were taken prisoner.

The Allied Forces suffered 25,000 casualties, with nearly 7,000 dead. Over 1/4 of the Medals of Honor awarded Marines in World War II were given for conduct in the invasion of Iwo Jima.

The Photo

Perhaps one of the most recognizeable photos of all time, the picture of the 6 marines raising the flag above Mount Suribachi on the third day of the battle. The six marines pictured are: The photo was taken by Joe Rosenthal, who won the 1945 pulitzer prize. (The only photo to win in the same year it was taken). Of the six flag raisers, only Hayes, Gagnon, and Bradley survived the battle, and only Bradley was able to lead a normal life afterward. Following his death, his son published a biography of the six flager raisers, Flags of Our Fathers.

"The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years."'' -- Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal