Iwo Jima 19 Feb - 16 March 1945 An Airfield is Needed to Support the B-29's
The Pacific War -- Hindsight lets us see that the main line progress of the Pacific War from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo was : Gilberts : Tarawa and Makin, 21Nov43, to penetrate outer defenses of the Japanese conquests ;
Marshalls : - Kwajalein 31Jan44 and Eniwetak 17Feb which was necessary step to clear the way to a major goal of the Marianas : Siapan 15Jun-9July44,
Guam 21July-10Aug , Tinian 24July-01Aug , As part of this operation, Japanese carrier fleet was defeated in Philippine Sea 19Jun44, known as the "Mariana's Turkey Shoot." The Marianas placed Japan within range of a new bomber, the B-29 Superfortress. From the Marianas, the war making productive capabilities of Japan will be destroyed.
Next came a requirement to support the Landing on Leyte, Philippines, 20Oct44, and destruction of the Japanese battle fleet at Leyte Gulf, 23Oct-26Oct. MacArthur's
efforts in land battle delay the next moves.
Iwo Jima, 19 Feb-16 March 1945, is needed to provide an airfield for fighter escort of bombers over Japan. And finally, Okinawa, 1Apr-21Jun, as a base for staging the actual invasion of Kyushu, Japan, home islands.
Iwo Jima. There is a need for an airfield closer to Japan for fighter escorts to accompany bombers from the Mariana's airfields at Guam, Siapan and Tinian while over the
targets in Japan. An equally valuable goal is a place for crippled bombers to land .
Iwo Jima is half way between the Marianas and Japan. The island is shy of 5 miles long, 2-1/2 miles wide at its widest at the north end and about 350 above sea level. The island narrows to 700 yards at the south and ends with 580 foot Mt. Saribuchi. The island's two airfields are used as a way point for air travel between the Carolinas and
Japan and for attacks on the B-29 airfields in the Marianas.
Japanese Defenses The Japanese had learned they can not defend a beach against USN bombardment.
So how does one defend an island that was almost all beach? The Japanese build underground,
with miles of tunnels connecting pill boxes and fighting trenches with underground garrisons.. The underground headquarter bunker has walls with 10 feet of concrete. Gun emplacements have 4 foot walls and can not be seen nor attacked from the air. They know the island can not be saved, rather the goal is to kill as many attackers as possible so as to make the Americans willing to make a truce rather than invade Japan. 26,000 troops are on Iwo.
American Forces Iwo Jima was one of several amphibious invasions conducted by the Marine Corp
as their speciality. It was the largest, all-Marine operation. They arrive with 450 ships, 50,000 marines, and 482 Amtracs, The amphibious landing boats with caterpillar tracs are able to take marines through the surf and onto the beach -- the need for this was established at Tarawa. During the delay of the Philippines, the Japanese make the island into a fortress, even while it is bombed for 72 days by B-24's from the Marianas. The ships included 6 battleships, 4 cruisers and 16 destroyers. The 14" guns and other naval guns bombard the island for three days. As 8 battalions in ten waves hit the beach, the guns stop and
the 9,000 landing troops ran into a loose, black volcanic sand, terraced sharply that even tracked vehicles can not climb.
The Battle There is no response to the bombardment, but beach reconnaissance earlier had been strongly attacked damaging 8 gun boats. There was no response during the landing, then the enemy
come out of their tunnels to fire on the exposed Marines trying to climb the sand
terraces. A first day objective of capturing an airfield only 500 yards inland is not obtained. Bulldozers have to make grade and mat applied for tanks to get on the island.
Only tanks are effective in attacking the concrete pillboxes. By nightfall, 26,000
marines have landed, 5000 of them killed or wounded.
The battle that had been expected to take a few days. The Japanese strategy of attrition drag on for a month. The fortress of Mt. Suribachi is taken on 23 February, marked by flag raisings.
The Navy The fleet carrier force (16 carriers) attacks Japan 16 Feb with naval aircraft for the first time (Doolittle's raid was by Army B-25's) destroying 500 aircraft before withdrawing in bad weather to be on hand for the invasion.
From Oct 44 (Battle of Leyte Gulf) the Japanese adopt suicide as a method of warfare. The invasion of Iwo Jima, within range of the home islands, brings out both Kamikaze and bombers directly from Japan.
Kamikazes sink the escort carrier Bismarck Sea (CVE-95) and damage Saratoga (CV-3), 21Feb. The winter weather is bad and many ships are damaged or collide .
Land based artillery and friendly fire also damage ships in waters around the small island. When Kamikazes arrive, the fleet carriers turned north again to attack air fields in southern Japan 25Feb and destroy 600 planes.
The Results The island is declared secure 16 March. 19,000 Japanese killed; 1000 are taken captive. Marines suffer 25,581 casualties(1) of which 5330 have been killed.
On March 3, 1945, a crippled B-29 out of fuel lands on Iwo Jima. Without Iwo it would have crashed in the ocean with its 10 man crew. Not ready for aircraft, the big bomber is refueled by a line of troops with helmets. As an emergency landing site, 2,250 B-29's take advantage of the refuge ;
thus 22,500 airmen do not swim home. P-51 Mustang fighters are based on the island from 11 March ; B-29 attacks had begun on Japan from Siapan in late November'44.
Iwo will provide a protected right flank in the taking Okinawa and will become a site for direct attack on Tokyo with light, medium, and B-24 bombers .
----- 1 . Note the greater than one-for-one casualty rate. In planning for the invasion of Japan home islands,: Khyshu, the first invasion point, surrendered 216,627 men. They would have been killed and an equal or greater number of Americans would have become casualties in the land fighting alone, plus sailors, airmen, and, of course, Japanese civilians. Say, half a million people. Bless the atomic bomb.
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Last updated on August 4, 2005