Twenty-five days earlier, on February 19, 1945, American forces launched the final assault on a small island in the Pacific Ocean called Iwo Jima. Measuring 4.5 miles long and only 2.5 miles wide at the widest, the mountainous island was the home of more than 20,000 Japanese troops.
Over the course of final battle, over 70,000 US Marines set foot on Iwo Jima. What was supposed to be a quick and easy battle was anything but quick and easy. A year earlier, American B-24 and B-25 bombers began 74 days of bombardment of the island in preparation of an invasion from the sea.
The island was riddled with tunnels, some natural and some made by the Japanese. The maze of tunnels allowed the Japanese forces to safely hide from the aerial bombardment and move troops from place to place without being seen.
On March 16, 1945, American commanders declared that the island had been secured and the fighting was over. However, several hundred Japanese soldiers held out in the caves and continued to launch occasional attacks on the American forces that were busy building an airfield for American planes.
By April 4, 1945, American forces had successfully established their air base for the purpose of providing a base from which fighter planes could fly out of to help protect American bombers on long range missions.
At battles’ end, there were 1,083 Japanese captured and nearly 21,000 killed. America lost 6,800 Marines with another 19,000 plus wounded. The 26,000 total casualties suffered by the Marines was the most of any Marine battle.
Most sources justify the loss of nearly 7,000 Marines by stating that 2.251 B-29 Superfortress bombers safely landed at the American airstrip on Iwo Jima, as opposed of ditching into the ocean after their long range missions over Japan. It was all part of Operation Detachment.
However, one source I found questions the cost of 7,000 American lives and the justification made by most historians. It pointed out that the reasons given to the Joint War Planners for Operation Detachment and the conquering of Iwo Jima were inconsistent with what the island was eventually used for:
“Part of the difficulty in probing the reasons given for Operation Detachment is that the sources are inconsistent. In the strategy approved by the Joint War Planners, the justifications for the Bonin Islands operation were:
Providing fighter cover for the application of our air effort against Japan.
Denying these strategic outposts to the enemy.
Furnishing air defense bases for our positions in the Marianas.
Providing fields for staging heavy bombers (B-24 Liberators) against Japan.
Precipitating a decisive naval engagement.”
After the airstrip on Iwo Jima was established, not nearly as many fighter sorties were flown from the island. The primary use ended up being the landing strip for the B-29 bombers.
Right or wrong, Iwo Jima was a costly endeavor that did provide a strategic point of operation for the American war against Japan. Today, as we remember the end of the bloody battle and the iconic raising of the American flag on Mt. Suribachi, we need to remember all of those that sacrificed for the cause of freedom and their families.
Sources for the above includes: Bloody Battle of Iwo Jima Launched Today, Feb. 19, 1945; Fighting on Iwo Jima Ends; World War II: Battle of Iwo Jima; Worth the Cost? Justification of the Iwo Jima Invasion.