Battle for Iwo Jima
"The battle of Iwo Island has been won. The United States Marines by their individual and
collective courage have conquered a base which is as necessary to us in our continuing forward
movement toward final victory as it was vital to the enemy in staving off ultimate defeat."
"By their victory, the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions and other units of the Fifth Amphibious
Corps have made an accounting to their country which only history will be able to value fully.
Among the American who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue."
--Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
Iwo Jima, which means sulfur island, was strategically important as an air base for fighter escorts
supporting long-range bombing missions against mainland Japan. Because of the distance between
mainland Japan and U.S. bases in the Mariana Islands, the capture of Iwo Jima would provide an
emergency landing strip for crippled B-29s returning from bombing runs. The seizure of Iwo would
allow for sea and air blockades, the ability to conduct intensive air bombardment and to destroy the
enemy's air and naval capabilities.
The seizure of Iwo Jima was deemed necessary, but the prize would not come easy. The fighting that
took place during the 36-day assault would be immortalized in the words of Commander, Pacific
Fleet/Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who said, "Among the
Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue."
To the Japanese leadership, the capture of Iwo Jima meant the battle for Okinawa, and the invasion of
Japan itself, was not far off.
Commanders for the operation, code named Detachment, were assigned as follows:
--Admiral Raymond A. Spruance was the operation's overall commander.
--Joint Expeditionary Force commander was Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner. Second in
command of the Joint Expeditionary Force was Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill.
--Lieutenant General Holland M. "Howlin' Mad" Smith was assigned as the commanding general of
--The 54th Amphibious Corps was commanded by Major General Harry Schmidt. Under his command
fell the 3rd Marine Division commander, Major General Graves B. Erskine; the 4th Marine Division
commander, Major General Clifton B. Cates; and the 5th Marine Division commander, Major General
Keller E. Rockey.
Initial carrier raids against Iwo Jima began in June 1944. Prior to the invasion, the 8-square-mile island
would suffer the longest, most intensive shelling of any Pacific island during the war. The 7th Air Force,
working out of the Marianas, supplied the B-24 heavy bombers for the campaign. In addition to the air
assaults on Iwo, the Marines requested 10 days of pre-invasion naval bombardment. Due to other
operational commitments and the fact that a prolonged air assault had been waged on Iwo Jima, Navy
planners authorized only three days of naval bombardment. Unfavorable weather conditions would
further hamper the effects of naval bombardment. Despite this, Turner decided to keep the invasion
date as planned, and the Marines prepared for the Feb. 19 D-day.
More than 450 ships massed off Iwo as the H-hour bombardment pounded the island. Shortly after 9
a.m., Marines of the 4th and 5th divisions hit beaches Green, Red, Yellow and Blue abreast, initially
finding little enemy resistance. Coarse volcanic sand hampered the movement of men and machines as
they struggled to move up the beach. As the protective naval gunfire subsided to allow for the Marine
advance, the Japanese emerged form their fortified underground positions to begin a heavy barrage of
fire against the invading force.
The 4th Marine Division pushed forward against heavy opposition to take the Quarry, a Japanese
strong point. The 5th Marine Division's 28th Marines had the mission of isolating Mount Suribachi. Both
tasks were accomplished that day.
The Battle Continues
Feb. 20, one day after the landing, the 28th Marines secured the southern end of Iwo and moved to
take the summit of Suribachi. By day's end, one third of the island and Motoyama Airfield No. 1 was
controlled by the Marines. By Feb. 23, the 28th Marines would reach the top of Mount Suribachi and
raise the U.S. flag.
The 3rd Marine Division joined the fighting on the fifth day of the battle. These Marines immediately
began the mission of securing the center sector of the island. Each division fought hard to gain ground
against a determined Japanese defender. The Japanese leaders knew with the fall of Suribachi and the
capture of the airfields that the Marine advance on the island could not be stopped; however, they
would make the Marines fight for every inch of land they won.
Lieutenant General Tadamishi Kuribayashi, commander of the ground forces on Iwo Jima,
concentrated his energies and his forces in the central and northern sections of the island. Miles of
interlocking caves, concrete blockhouses and pillboxes proved to be one of the most impenetrable
defenses encountered by the Marines in the Pacific.
The Marines worked together to drive the enemy from the high ground. Their goal was to capture the
area that appropriately became known as the "Meat Grinder." This section of the island included three
distinct terrain features, which were the highest point on the northern portion of the island, Hill 382; an
elevation known as "Turkey Knob," which had been reinforced with concrete and was home to a large
enemy communications center; and the "Amphitheater," a southeastern extension of Hill 382.
The 3rd Marine Division encountered the most heavily fortified portion of the island in their move to
take Airfield No. 2. As with most of the fighting on Iwo Jima, frontal assault was the method used to
gain each inch of ground. By nightfall on March 9, the 3rd division reached the island's northeastern
beach, cutting the enemy defenses in two.
On the left of the 3rd Marine Division, the 5th Marine Division pushed up the western coast of Iwo
Jima from the central airfield to the island's northern tip. Moving to seize and hold the eastern portion of
the island, the 4th Marine Division encountered a "mini banzai" attack from the final members of the
Japanese Navy serving on Iwo. This attack resulted in the death of nearly 700 enemy and ended the
centralized resistances of enemy forces in the 4th division's sector. The 4th division would join forces
with the 3rd and 5th at the coast on March 10.
A proud moment for those who worked so hard to gain control of the island was when the first
emergency landing was made by a B-29 bomber on March 4. Repairs were made, refueling was
completed and the aircraft was off to complete its mission.
Operations entered the final phases March 11, enemy resistance was no longer centralized. Individual
pockets of resistance were taken one by one.
Finally on March 26, following a banzai attack against troops and air corps personnel near the beaches,
the island was declared secure. The U.S. Army's 147th Infantry Regiment assumed ground control of
the island on April 4, relieving the largest body of Marines committed in combat in one operation during
World War II.
The 36-day assault resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead. Of the
20,000 Japanese defenders, only 1,083 survived. The Marines' efforts, however, provided a vital link in
the U.S. chain of bomber bases. By war's end, 2,400 B-29 bombers carrying 27,000 crewman made
unscheduled landings on the island.
Historians described U.S. forces' attack against the Japanese defense as "throwing human flesh against
reinforced concrete." In the end, Iwo Jima was won not only by the fighting spirit of the Marines, but by
the meticulous planning and support provided by the Navy and Army through supply efforts, medical
care, and air and naval gunfire.
Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines and sailors, many posthumously more than
were awarded for any other single operation during the war.
At 8 a.m. on Feb. 23, a patrol of 40 men from 3rd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, led
by 1st Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier, assembled at the base of Mount Suribachi. The platoon's mission
was to take the crater of Suribachi's peak and raise the U.S. flag.
The platoon slowly climbed the steep trails to the summit, but encountered no enemy fire. As they
reached the top, the patrol members took positions around the crater watching for pockets of enemy
resistance as other members of the patrol looked for something on which to raise the flag.
At 10:20 a.m., the flag was hoisted on a steel pipe above the island by First Lieutenant Harold Schrier,
platoon commander, Sergeant Ernest I. Thomas, platoon sergeant, Corporal Charles W. Lindberg, and
Private First Class James R. Nicel. This symbol of victory sent a wave of strength to the battle-weary
fighting men below, and struck a further mental blow against the island's defenders.
Marine Corps photographer Sergeant Lou Lowery captured this first flag-raising on film just as the
enemy hurled a grenade in his direction. Dodging the grenade Lowery hurled his body over the edge of
the crater and tumbled 50 feet. His camera lens was shattered, but he and his film were safe.
Three hours later another patrol was dispatched to raise another larger flag. The battle for Iwo Jima is
encapsulated by this historic flag-raising atop Suribachi, which was captured on film by Associated
Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. His photo, seen around the world as a symbol of American values,
would earn him many awards including the 1945 Pulitzer Prize. The flag-raisers as seen in the photo,
are (from left to right) Private First Class Ira H. Hayes, Private First Class Franklin R. Sousley,
Sergeant Michael Strank, Pharmacist's Mate Second Class John Bradley, Private First Class Rene A.
Gagnon, and Corporal Harlon Block.
Over the years, the flag-raising has come to symbolize the spirit of the Corps to all Marines. On Nov.
10, 1954, a bronze monument of the flag-raising, sculpted by Felix de Weldon and located in Arlington
National Cemetery, was dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in defense of their country.
Then Vice President Richard M. Nixon said, "This statue symbolizes the hopes and dreams of America,
and the real purpose of our foreign policy. We realized that to retain freedom for ourselves, we must be
concerned when people in other parts of the world may lose theirs. There is no greater challenge to
statesmanship than to find a way that such sacrifices as this statue represents are not necessary in the
future, and to build the kind of world in which people can be free, in which nations can be independent,
and in which people can live together in peace and friendship."
Men of the 25th Marines are pinned down as they hit the beach. Making their fourth assault in 13
months, the veteran fighters are ready to secure the beachhead's right flank.
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