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The full story of one of the bloodiest battles of the war in the Pacific
Operation Detachment, the invasion of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945, was the first campaign on Japanese soil and resulted in some of the fiercest fighting of the Pacific campaign. U. S. Marines supported by the Navy and Air Force fought the Japanese both over and underground on the island of volcanic ash, in a battle which was immortalized by the raising of the Stars and Stripes above Mount Suribachi. It was a battle that the Japanese could not win but they were determined to die trying; of the 18,000-strong garrison, only 200 were taken prisoner. Americans lost more in the 35 day battle, but at the end had possession of three airfields in range of the Japanese mainland. This book gives a clear, concise account of those dramatic days in 1945, supported by a timeline of events and orders of battle.
About the Author
Andrew Rawson has written numerous military history books, including Battle Story: Battle of the Bulge 1944-45, Battleground Europe: Walcheren, Bridge at Remagan, and The Vietnam War Handbook.
Read an Excerpt
Iwo Jima 1945
By Andrew Rawson
The History PressCopyright © 2012 Andrew Rawson
All rights reserved.
As early as September 1943 the Joint War Planning Committee met in Washington to discuss plans for the campaign against the Japanese homeland. The Central Pacific Forces had first to neutralise the Caroline Islands so that new sea and air bases could be established; only then could attacks be launched against the Japanese Navy. The Army Air Force also wanted air bases on the Mariana Islands so their new long-range B-29 Superfortress bombers could start bombing mainland Japan.
The Committee identified the capture of one of the Nanpo Islands, midway between the Marianas and Tokyo, as an objective for early 1945. The islands were a vital part of the Japanese outer defences and the largest island in the Volcano Island group, Iwo Jima, was singled out as a key objective. Long-range fighters could then use the island's airfields to escort the bombers to Japan; returning damaged bombers could also land on the island.
In March 1944 the invasion of the Marianas was scheduled for 15 June and it would be the first stage in the advance towards the Japanese homeland.
At the end of June a paper entitled 'Operations Against Japan Subsequent to Formosa' proposed advancing from the MarianaIslands to the Nanpo Islands in April 1945. On 12 August the Joint War Planning Committee submitted an outline plan for the invasion of Iwo Jima to the Joint Staff Planners. It listed the following advantages of taking the island:
1. It would take a strategic outpost from the Japanese.
2. Fighter planes could provide air cover for the new bases on the Marianas.
3. Fighter planes would also provide protection for bombers heading for Japan.
4. Bombers could use the island for staging attacks on Japan.
The US Armed Forces continued their operations across the Pacific throughout the summer of 1944. Saipan, Tinian and Guam were taken, clearing the Marianas by the end of August. While the Japanese Navy Air Service suffered heavily, the US Air Force went from strength to strength as new air bases were built. The continued successes convinced the US High Command that they could take any island in the Pacific if sufficient naval, amphibious and shore-based air forces were made available. It meant that an attack on Iwo Jima had become a case of when, not if.
Joint Staff Planners presented the Joint Logistics Committee with its plans for the invasion of Iwo Jima by September, asking for three divisions to be ready for 15 April 1945. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz told Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, Commanding General of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, to keep the 2nd and 3rd Marine Divisions ready in the Marianas as a reserve for the invasion of Formosa; they would then be used to attack Iwo Jima.
However, the Navy, Army, and Army Air Force commanders were all reconsidering the need for the invasion of Formosa. Admiral Nimitz had originally wanted bases in Formosa ready to strike the Chinese coast but recent Japanese gains in the area made him change his mind. Meanwhile, both Lieutenant General Robert C. Richardson Jr, Commanding General, Army Forces, Pacific Ocean Areas, and Lieutenant General Millard F. Harmon, Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, Pacific Ocean Areas, wanted to strike Iwo Jima instead of Formosa.
Admiral Nimitz, Admiral Ernest J. King (Commander, US Navy and Navy member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), Admiral Raymond A. Spruance (Commander, US Fifth Fleet) and Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner (Tenth US Army Commander and Commander of the Formosa Landing Force) met late in September in San Francisco to make the decision. The meeting illustrated that therewere insufficient troops for the Formosa and southeast China operations. The War Department was also refusing to increase troop numbers in the Pacific until the war in Europe was over. Instead, Admiral King explained that there were enough forces for a different strategy. Iwo Jima in the Nanpo Islands would be taken first in January 1945; fighter support could then be provided for the B-29s raiding Tokyo. The capture of Okinawa Island in the Nansei Islands (also called Ryukyu Islands) would provide a staging area for the invasion of the Japanese mainland.
Admiral King returned to Washington and the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the change in strategy. They issued a new directive to Admiral Nimitz in which he was told to prepare for the following operations:
1. Provide fleet cover and support for the attack on Luzon; target date 20 December 1944.
2. Occupy one or more of the Nanpo Islands; target date 20 January 1945.
3. Occupy one or more of the Nansei Islands, target date 1 March 1945.
On 9 October 1944 Admiral Nimitz told General Holland M. Smith (nicknamed 'Howling Mad'), to prepare for an invasion of Iwo Jima.
The Joint War Plans Committee issued a paper called 'Operations for the Defeat of Japan' on 18 October outlining the advantages of capturing Iwo Jima:
1. It would establish sea and air blockades.
2. It would allow B-29 bombers to carry out air attacks on the Japanese mainland.
3. It would contribute to the destruction of Japanese naval and air power.
4. It would pave the way for the eventual invasion of Japan.
Planning for the invasion of Iwo Jima could now begin in earnest.
Airbases on the Marianas become operational in November 1944 and B-29 bombers immediately began bombing mainland Japan, in particular the capital, Tokyo. News of the raids gave the American people and servicemen a morale boost but plane and crew losses were high, far too high. If a plane was damaged by enemy action over Japan or suffered a malfunction, the crew had to ditch in the Pacific Ocean where their chances of being rescued were zero. Although the raids had to continue, the US Air Force was desperate for a staging airfield along the flight route, and Iwo Jima was the place. Not only could fighter squadrons join the bombers en route to Tokyo, crippled bombers could land on it.
Planning for Iwo Jima continued throughout October but by mid-November it was clear that the timetable of operations had to be changed. The interval between the invasion of Luzon on 20 December and Iwo Jima on 20 January did not give time to switch shipping from one area to the other. Admiral Nimitz recommended delaying the attack on Iwo Jima (Operation Detachment) to 3 February while the invasion of Okinawa (Operation Iceberg) was rescheduled for 15 March.
The campaign to clear Leyte in the Philippines was also taking far longer than expected owing to the arrival of two new Japanese divisions on the island and the atrocious weather. General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area, had to postpone the assault on Luzon to 9 January 1945, in turn delaying the invasion of Iwo Jima. At the beginning of December Admiral Nimitz recommended delaying Operations Detachment and Iceberg to 19 February and 1 April 1945 respectively; the Joint Chiefs agreed.
Planning Operation Detachment
Admiral Nimitz's staff published a preliminary report of the invasion of Iwo Jima on 7 October so planning could begin. Operation Detachment's objectives were to extend US armed forces control over the Western Pacific while maintaining military pressure against Japan. The capture of the island and its airbases were also outlined as part of the overall strategy for the defeat of Japan. Admiral Nimitz's directive also specified the four commanders for the operation:
1 Operation: Commander Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN.
2 Joint Expeditionary Force: Commander Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, USN.
3 Joint Expeditionary Force Second in Command: Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill, USN.
4 Expeditionary Troops Commander: Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith, USMC.
General Smith received Admiral Nimitz's directive on 9 October and his staff immediately set to work planning the invasion. Fifth Fleet and V Amphibious Corps had cooperated before during the capture of the Gilberts, the Marshalls and the Marianas, and all levels of staff were used to working together. Responsibilities were distributed as follows:
Responsible for coordinating General, Pacific all aspects of the Pacific war;
Ocean Areas land, sea and air.
Responsible for the long
General, Army range bombing campaigns,
Air Forces, either to support invasions or
Pacific Ocean against the Japanese
Coordinate naval gunfire support before the invasion,
Fifth Fleet during the landing and during the battle.
Organise the transfer of troops, vehicles and
Amphibious equipment to the island during the landing
Forces, Pacific and the battle.
Organise the delivery of
Service Force, supplies and ammunition to
Pacific the beachhead.
Organise bombing raids by
Air Force, land-based planes,
Pacific particularly before the invasion.
Major General Harry Schmidt, commander of V Amphibious Corps, was in turn appointed Commanding General of the Landing Force. Schmidt's staff were responsible for preparing the Marine aspect of invasion, knowing that they had the Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, at their disposal.
3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Divisions had been assigned as V Amphibious Corps' Landing Force. 3rd Division had just captured Guam and it was resting and refitting on the island. 4th Division had just taken Saipan and Tinian and it was resting and refitting at its base on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands. Iwo Jima would be 5th Division's first battle but many combat-experienced troops had been transferred to it to help it complete training on Hawaii Island.
V Amphibious Corps Headquarters moved to Pearl Harbor on Oahu Island, in the Hawaii chain on 13 October 1944 to facilitate planning, and six days later Schmidt issued an outline plan. The following day, General Holland Smith, the Commanding General of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, issued troop assignments to General Schmidt.
As the various staffs worked together to finalise the planning for the invasion of Iwo Jima, Schimdt's original plan evolved to accommodate information gathered from aerial intelligencereports. The various headquarters published their final drafts for Operation Detachment on the following dates:
Commander-in-Chief, US Pacific Fleet and
Pacific Ocean Areas, Operation Plan No. 1144
V Amphibious Corps, Operation
Plan No. 344
Joint Expeditionary Force,
Operation Plan No. A25-44
Fifth Fleet, Operation Plan No. 13-44
By the time Admiral Spruance assumed command of all forces assigned to Central Pacific Task Force on 26 January 1945, all elements of Operation Plan 11-44 were being developed.CHAPTER 2
General Holland Smith
General Smith, or 'Howling Mad' as he was known, was Commander of the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet, in December 1941 and responsible for training several divisions in amphibious landings. He transferred to command the Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, in August 1942. The organisation was later known as V Amphibious Corps and it moved to Pearl Harbor in September 1943 to begin planning for the Gilberts campaign. Smith was still in command when it was renamed Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, in August 1944.
Major General Harry Schmidt
Schmidt was Assistant to the Commandant of the Marine Corps from January 1942 to August 1943. He then commanded 4th Marine Division during the capture of Roi-Namur in the Battle of Kwajalein and in the invasion of Saipan. In July 1944, he took command of V Amphibious Corps and led it through the invasion and capture of Tinian Island.
General Tadamichi Kuribayashi
In December 1941, Kuribayashi was appointed Chief of Staff of the Japanese 23rd Army in time for the invasion of Hong Kong. He was promoted to lieutenant general as commander of the 2nd Imperial Guards Division, a training division, in 1943. On 27 May 1944, he transferred to the 109th Division and two weeks later was ordered to defend Iwo Jima in the Bonin Islands chain believing that 'Japan has started a war with a formidable enemy and we must brace ourselves accordingly.'
Kuribayashi arrived on the island on 19 June 1944, having had an audience with Emperor Hirohito. After surveying the island's defences he set about planning new ones inland, eventually connecting the 5000 caves with 11 miles of tunnels. He believed that 'America's productive powers are beyond our imagination' and wanted to turn Iwo Jima into a fortress. He realised he could not hold Iwo Jima forever but was prepared to fight a battle of attrition. He expected to die and on 5 September he wrote to his wife: 'It must be destiny that we as a family must face this. Please accept this and stand tall with the children at your side. I will be with you always.'
The Marine wore the 1941 pattern utility uniform, a simple loose-cut two-piece uniform made of sage green cotton herringbone twill. It was called either utilities or dungarees but never fatigues, the US Army word for uniform. The jacket had three flapless pockets while the trousers had four; the arrangement depended on which manufacturer made them. The M1 steel helmet was covered with a camouflage cloth which had a reversible brown/green coloration. The later version had slits for foliage, something that was not needed on Iwo Jima. Leggings were worn over the boots but they were often discarded because they could be difficult to put on and were uncomfortable to wear.
A US Marine carried his equipment and personal belongings in a three-part olive drab M-1941 Haversack that could be arranged in five different ways: light marching, marching, field marching, transport and field transport. The upper section carried the rations, poncho and clothes needed in combat while the lower section contained extra shoes and utilities. The exterior of the upper pack had loops and tabs for attaching a bayonet, shovel, extra canteen and first-aid pouch; a bedroll could be folded around the top. The belt suspenders completed the haversack. The harsh Pacific environment quickly faded and then rotted the uniform and equipment.
Officers were issued with either Colt M1911 or M1917 .45 calibre revolvers. The rank and file Marines were armed with the M1 Garand, which had a high rate of fire thanks to its gas operated rotating bolt system. The semi-automatic rifle fired .30–60 Springfield ammunition from the 8-round internal magazine and could also fire fragmentation, anti-tank and smoke grenades using a spigot attachment and special ammunition. The shorter M1 Carbine was issued to officers, NCOs and other specialists who benefited from carrying this shorter, compact weapon; it fired a 7.62mm round from a 15- or 30-round box.
The M1A1/M1928 Thompson submachine gun could fire over 600 .45 ACP rounds a minute from 20- or 30-round stick magazines and they were often issued to scouts, NCOs and patrol leaders. Delays in production meant that only a limited number of M3 submachine guns, or 'Grease Guns' were available. Some men were issued with the Winchester M12 Trench Gun, a six-round pump action shot gun for close quarter combat. The MkII Fragmentation grenade and smoke and white phosphorous variants were used in great numbers in the close-quarter fighting, while the Ka-Bar knife could be used in a tight corner.
The M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR, had a high rate of fire and the .30 rounds it fired from a round box magazine had a high stopping power. It could be mounted on a bipod for increased accuracy and the trigger man could choose either automatic or semi-automatic fire. The M1917 Browning machine gun was a heavy, tripod-mounted weapon and its four-man crew used it in a semi-static role. It was water cooled and the belt-fed mechanism could fire up 600 .30 rounds a minute. The M1919 Browning Machine Gun was an air-cooled tripod-mounted weapon with a crew of two; it also had a maximum rate of fire of 600 rounds a minute.
Excerpted from Iwo Jima 1945 by Andrew Rawson. Copyright © 2012 Andrew Rawson. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
Planning Operation Detachment,
The Days Before the Assault,
The Invasion Plans,
Logistics and Administration,
Training and Rehearsals,
Sailing to Iwo Jima,
The Preliminary Bombardment,
Securing the Beachhead (D-Day to D+7),
D-Day, 19 February 1945,
Cutting off Hot Rocks (D+1 to D+4),
4th Division Advances toward Airfield 1,
The Battle for Hot Rocks (D+1 to D+4),
The Battles for Airfield 1 and the Quarry (D+1 to D+2),
The Advance towards Airfield 2 and Minami (D+3 and D+4),
Clearing Airfield 2 and the Advance to Charlie-Dog Ridge (D+5 to D+7),
Securing the Island (D+8 to D+19),
5th Division's Advance to Hill 362A and Nishi Ridge (D+8 to D+14),
3rd Division's Advance to Motoyama and Airfield 3 (D+8 and D+14),
4th Division in the Meat Grinder (D+8 and D+14),
5th Division's Advance to Kitano Ravine (D+15 to D+19),
3rd Division's Advance to the East Coast (D+15 to D+19),
4th Division Takes Minami and Higashi (D+15 to D+19),
The Final Phase (D+20 to D+35),
RCT 21 Advances to Kitano Point (D+25),
4th Division Clears Tachiiwa Point (D+20 to D+25),
To Kitano Point (D+20 to D+25),
The Battle for Kitano Gorge (D+20 to D+35),
The Final Days,
Leaving Iwo Jima Behind,
The Battle for Okinawa,
The Atomic Bomb,
Orders of Battle,