World War II -- Iwo Jima

Short History of the Battle on Iwo Jima

The tiny island of Iwo Jima is just under five miles long and two and a half miles wide at its widest point and has been described by many as a "pork chop" when viewed from the air. Located slightly south and west of the midpoint between Tokyo and Saipan, Iwo Jima is 625 miles north of Saipan and 660 miles south of Tokyo. The name of the island, Iwo Jima, translates to Sulphur Island for the numerous ground vents that spew sulphur fumes from underground sulphur springs. The island is mostly barren, with a 556-foot extinct volcano on the southern tip of the island (Mt. Suribachi), black sands, rocky cliffs, and no source of drinkable water.

The amphibious assault on Iwo Jima was considered to be the "ultimate storm landing," with a striking force of 74,000 Marines. Although planners estimated the attack on Iwo should have been over within a week or less, they hadn't planned on the stubborn, savvy fighting of the estimated 21,000 Japanese troops on the island, who were experienced in island warfare after their many campaigns in the Pacific. Caves throughout the island were utilized by the Japanese military for a hospital, headquarters for the various Japanese officers on island, and even a sauna. Mt. Suribachi housed a seven-story interior structure used by the Japanese for stockpiling weapons, ammo, radios, fuel, and rations.

What started as a quick, violent attack on February 19, 1945, turned into 36 days of some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting the Marines had encountered. The U.S. Marine 4th and 5th Divisions led the invasion, with the 3rd Division in reserve. The first day saw 2,400 American casualties but, during the battle U.S. Marines, sailors and soldiers killed an estimated 20,000 Japanese and captured over 1,000 prisoners. On March 25, the Battle of Iwo Jima was finally over, with the U.S. the victor.

Over 6,000 U.S. Marines, sailors and soldiers died, over 18,000 were wounded and over 500 were presumed dead or MIA. Twenty-six U.S. Marines and Navy corpsmen received Iwo Jima Medal of Honor Citations for their gallant bravery in combat on Iwo Jima. (For more information on the Medal of Honor recipients, visit this page)

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