IWO JIMA (16 February–17 March 1945). The capture of the Japanese island of Iwo Jima in World War II by three U.S. Marine divisions supported by more than 800 warships and landing craft has been described as the classic amphibious assault of World War II. One of the Volcano Islands 750 miles south of Tokyo, Iwo Jima could give Japan two hours' warning of U.S. B-29 raids from the Mariana Islands and provided a fighter base for the harassment of U.S. bombers. To reverse this situation and afford a haven for crippled American aircraft, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed that Iwo Jima be seized.
The eight-square-mile island is dominated at one end by Mount Suribachi (556 feet). The island's defenses—the most elaborate, dense, and best integrated in the Pacific—included three airfields; more than 730 major installations with 120 guns larger than 75 mm; 220 large mortars, howitzers, and rocket launchers; and 10 miles of underground tunnels linking hundreds of bunkers and blockhouses. One of Japan's most able generals, Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, with 21,000 troops, defended Iwo Jima. The overall commander of the marines was Lieutenant General H. M. Smith, supported by Admiral R. K. Turner. The 82,000-man landing force (Third, Fourth, and Fifth Marine Divisions) was under the command of Lieutenant General H. Schmidt.
Following three days of bombardment from six battleships and five cruisers, the marines landed on 19 February under cover of the heaviest prelanding bombardment of the war—more than 6,000 tons of shells and bombs pounded the island before noon. Because of the massive preparation, beach casualties were moderate. However, capture of the remainder of the island required the most bitter battle of the Pacific, in which—amid black volcanic sands, grotesque crags, and steaming sulfur pits—gains were counted in yards. Heavy casualties were inflicted by both sides. Seizure of Mount Suribachi (23 February) by the Twenty-eighth Marine Division gave attackers the dominant terrain, from which a ten-day struggle ensued to overrun the fire-swept airfields and capture ridges, buttes, and deep caves in which Kuribayashi made his last desperate stand. Although Iwo Jima was officially declared secured on 17 March, resistance was not extinguished until nine days later.
The battle cost the United States 4,590 lives and wounded 24,096; more than 20,000 Japanese were killed and 1,083 captured. By the end of the war, 2,251 B-29 aircraft carrying 24,761 airmen had made safe emergency landings on Iwo Jima.
Bartley, W. S. Iwo Jima: Amphibious Epic. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Marine Corps, 1954.
Isely, Jeter A., and Philip A. Crowl. The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War, Its Theory, and Its Practice in the Pacific. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1951.
Marling, Karal A. Iwo Jima: Monuments, Memories, and the American Hero. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991.
Newcomb, Richard F. Iwo Jima. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.
Robert Debs Heinl Jr. / a. r.
See also Task Force 58 ; Underwater Demolition Teams ; World War II, Air War against Japan ; World War II, Navy in .
The photograph of the American Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima on 23 February 1945 became one of the most famous images of the Pacific War; the event is commemorated by the Marines' Memorial near Arlington.