JIMA~February 19th, 1945
from Navy Battleships and Cruisers rained down on Iwo Jima on February 16th , 17th and 18th, 1944
to soften up the island’s defenses. This
gunfire coupled with attacks by Army Air Corp Bombers and fleet Fighter Planes
turned the surface of the island to the consistency of a lunar landscape. The coastal defense guns suffered significant
damage when 32 of the 65 were damaged or destroyed, however, only 48 of the 228
light anti aircraft were put out of action.
More menacing to the attacking forces was the fact that less than 20% of
the 46 pillboxes, 91 artillery and anti-tank guns along with 450 pillboxes were
damaged. Most of the 20,000 Japanese
troops under the command of Lt General Tadamichi
Kuribayshi were hidden 10 meters to 100 meters below ground and not affected by
the bombardment. The Japanese commander
had done his homework and was fully prepared to deal with the best tactics that
the USMC could field. Sacred honor and
tradition was at stake. If successful,
the USMC would be the first foreign force in over 4000 years to occupy sacred
At 6:40 a.m. on February 19th Naval Gunfire is again targeted on the landing sites. At precisely this time, CPO J.R. Wilson on the USS Buene blows on his whistle to signal that it is time to begin loading the Landing
Craft with members of the 5th Marine Division and to discharge the
amphibian tractors from their tank landing ships. The
first five waves of marines would be delivered directly onto the beaches using
amphibian tractors. Problems began
immediately. The underwater demolitions
teams had reported the beaches to be gently slopping hard packed sand but in
reality the surface was steeply inclined soft volcanic ash. The wheeled amphibian vehicles immediately
sank to their axles in the soft ash.
Those that did not sink into the soft ash were not able to climb the
steep bank and get inland and off of the beaches. Individual marines sunk to their ankles in
the soft ash and likewise were not able to sprint inland as they were expected
to do. In all, 10,000 marines of the
first five waves were pinned within 300 yards of the beaches. The regimental and division reserves that
were being landed by landing craft ran faced worsening weather and rough
seas. Many of the landing craft broached
and discharged their cargo into the sea.
All of this confusion gave the defenders time to regroup and mount a
The 28 regiment of the
5 Marines led by Colonel “Harry the Horse” Harry Liversedge dashed
across the narrow isthmus and cut off
Mount Suribachi from the rest of the island.
After isolating Suribachi, high
casualties forced them to postpone further action until division reserves could
be brought forward to replace those killed and injured.
The 27th regiment of the
5 Marines were led by Colonel Thomas Wornham. They moved to the Northeast as they left the
beaches and moved to link up with the 4th Division. The objective for the 4
Division was to drive inland, make a hard right flank move and take the high
cliffs know as the “Quarry”. When the
“Quarry” was taken the battalion on the right flank only had 150 men left to
hold the objective from counter attack.
Division reserves were thrown into the line to hold it.
The next objective was to take the
first airfield and the Motoyama Plateau.
Taking these objectives ended the first day of battle. The cost was high. US casualties were estimated to be 1132
killed in action with an additional 3510 wounded. It would be another 36 days before the
island would be taken and hostilities brought to a close. In all more than 5500 Marines, Navy and Army
personnel lost their lives on Iwo Jima and another 19,250 were wounded. Only a hand full of the more than 20,000
Japanese defenders survived the battle. This was an astounding one to one ratio, never
witnessed before or since. This ratio
speaks to the tenacity and intensity of the battle.
Was the prize worth the cost? Over the next few months more than 20,000
aircrew and their damaged aircraft would find Iwo Jima a safe haven to make an
emergency landing on. Many of the
aircraft were then repaired and returned to action. In addition, the three airfields on Iwo
served as launching points for mass raids on the Japanese Mainland possibly
helping to shorten the war.
Those sacrificed on Iwo Jima were
destined to be immortalized forever by the Marine Corp statue that was inspired
by Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph. A fact not as well known is that the image captured by Rosenthal was the second flag raising that day. A much larger flag that could be seen by everyone on the Island was raised the second time.
First Flag Raising Second Flag Raising Photographed
by Joe Rosenthal.