Sunday, February 7, 2010

Operation Detachment
Iwo Jima

The 4th and 5th Marine Divisions invaded Iwo Jima 65 years ago on
15 February 1945

At the beginning of 1945 General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area, decided to try and capture the small volcanic island of Iwo Jima that at the time was being defended by 20,000 veterans of the Japanese Special Naval Landing Force. The Japanese, who had created a fortress on Mount Suribachi, faced an immense air and sea bombardment launched by the 5th Fleet under Admiral Raymond Spruance.

Iwo Jima means "Sulfur Island", an apt description of eight square miles of volcanic, treeless scrub. Dominated by 546-foot Mount Suribachi, the island became the site of one of the bloodiest battles in World War II. Its strategic importance lay in its location halfway between Japan and the airfields of the B-29 Super Fortresses located on the Mariana Islands. Capture of Iwo Jima by the Americans would provide an emergency landing field for crippled bombers returning from their bombing raids on Japan and an advance base for the shorter-ranged escort fighters.

The American's strategic timetable demanded that the island be secured in the early months of 1945. Continuous air and naval bombardment began 74 days before the scheduled invasion to prepare the way. Previous Island assaults had taught the Americans the hard lesson that the Japanese would fight to the last man to defend their positions. The massive bombardment was meant to smash the Japanese defensive

As the invasion unfolded on the morning of February 15, the plan seemed a success. Huddled in their landing craft, the Marines encountered only scattered fire as they approached the beach. This situation didn't last long. Unbeknownst to the invaders, the Japanese had dug a labyrinth of tunnels and caves throughout the island that had protected them from the aerial bombardment. As the assault troops scrambled up the volcanic beach, the Japanese opened up with everything they had. It was a blood bath with the Marines pinned down by withering fire.

The invasion plan called for the quick capture of the heights of Mt. Surabachi. Two days after the invasion, however, the Marines had advanced only 200 yards towards their goal. It was not until the 23rd that they were able to wrest the mountain's summit from the enemy and another three weeks before they secured the entire island. Nearly all the island's 21,000 defenders died in the battle while the Americans lost 6,821.

The United States Army Air Corps was now able to use the island to launch bombing attacks on Japan. The large number of Japanese buildings made of wood made it easy for the bombers to create firestorms. On 9 and 10 March 1945, a raid on Tokyo devastated the city. This was followed by attacks on Nagoya, Kobe, Oska and Yokohama. An estimated 260,000 were killed and 9.2 million left homeless.