At the beginning of 1944, Japan had lost the war, but in Washington it was certain that in order to force Japan’s surrender it was necessary to take the war to the very heart of the country. The North American commanders considered that the assault on the Japanese archipelago could cause the death in combat of more than one million American soldiers. In April 1942 Lt. Col. James Harold “Jimmy” Doolittle successfully made the first air raid to bomb Tokyo. As of this moment the Yankee Marines, the aircraft carriers and the B-29 bombers became the three fundamental instruments of the United States to win the Pacific war.
By mid-1944 the Americans had occupied the former Spanish colony of the Mariana Islands from where they could, with the B-29 and its six thousand kilometers of autonomy, bomb Tokyo and the main Japanese cities, although they arrived in Japanese airspace without protection from the P-51 Mustang fighters that had much less flight distance.
The occupation of the Ogasawara archipelago was going to eliminate the Japanese radars that alerted the B-29 air raids while having an airport from where the P-51 fighters could take off. To occupy the Ogasawara Islands, the “Detachment” operation was planned that led to the battle of Iwo Jima. On October 9, 1944, a white letter was given to the invasion of Iwo Jima, an island in the middle of the Pacific, whose only value resided at its airport.
Faced with the obvious American attack, the defense of the Island was entrusted to General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. The civilian population was evacuated, the garrison was reinforced with more than twenty thousand men and enormous fortification work began: the trenches of the beaches were abandoned to create a dense network of tunnels, numerous bunkers and forts in the flat area of the interior, in the mountainous part and in the north of the Island, made with cement mixed with lava, very well designed and without dead angles.
A samurai general
The biggest problem for the defense was the lack of weapons, ammunition, water and food, largely because of the almost absolute loss of naval and air control of the Japanese in the face of the enormous capacity of the US military industry. Kuribayashi instilled in his men a Numantine sense before the battle that was about to begin, which was the biggest problem for the Yankee Marines. General Kuribayashi, of the Samurai aristocrat family, was a competent soldier. He expressly forbade his men to launch into the assault in the open country, to the shout of banzai, so as not to suffer unnecessary casualties. The direction of the assault on Iwo Jima was entrusted to General Holland Smith. He assembled a squad composed of 500 ships, with 12 aircraft carriers and 8 battleships, with three marine divisions with 70,000, all veterans of the Pacific War, in total 250,000 men. The Yankee submarine fleet blocked the island. On the 16th, 17th and 18th of February 45 the bombardment of the American battleships began. On 19, the minesweepers cleared the area while waves of bombers dropped bombs and napalm. For Admiral Nimitz: No other island like Iwo Jima had previously received such a preliminary bombing.
In the early hours of the morning the Marines arrived at the beaches in their landing boats without receiving Japanese fire. Kuribayashi had ordered the fire to begin only when the Marines had entered the interior of the island.
An hour after the first landing, the beach had become a mass of marines, vehicles, artillery, ammunition boxes and all kinds of material. It is at this time when the Japanese artillery went into action on the few meters of width of the beach, causing many casualties and significant losses of men and material. The beach was delimited by terraces of soft ash, with high slopes up to four meters high, which made it difficult to get out of it. A land where the infants’ boots sank in the dust, which caused the Marines to slip while trying to climb the slopes dragged by the weight of the team. Jeeps and trucks, self-propelled guns and Sherman tanks were stuck for many hours on the beaches without being able to support their infantry and under enemy fire. The troops that had managed to advance inside were met with a resistance that arose to their rear guard that were not expected.
In the early hours of February 20, the landings of Marines protected by the covering fire of the squadron that bombed Mount Suribachi were reactivated. On February 21, 1945, the Marines launched into the assault of the mountain, finding much resistance. On the 23rd, the marines completed the climb by assaulting the enemy positions, armed with hand grenades and flamethrowers and managed to hoist their flag at the top of its summit. When they saw the flag flying in the Suribachi from the ships, the sirens of the ships celebrated what looked like victory. However, complete control of the island was not achieved until March 26, a month later. During the weeks after the capture of the Suribachi, the battle lasted to achieve the eviction of the Japanese from their positions in a landscape of ravines, mounds …, full of craters and mud, the result of intense bombardments, seeded wells of shooter, bunkers, tunnels and almost invisible Japanese fortifications.
Fire and blood
In the month that the new fighting lasted the breakthrough, the cleaning of the island, became a nightmare and a sangria for both contestants. No one gave barracks fighting the bayonet and a grenade hit. Flamethrowers and automatic weapons seized the lives of the Japanese who gave no ground. The US artillery cleaned a Japanese position, but the Emperor’s soldiers left their tunnels and regained it, turning the advance and cleanliness of every meter of Iwo Jima into a pitched battle. It was hell.
The Japanese resistance was without quarter. The Japanese soldiers, a race of warriors, spent several days before their defeat without food or water, having to drink from puddles and eat worms, insects and everything that fell into their hands. On the night of March 25, 1945, when all was lost, a group of about 200 Japanese soldiers, the last survivors, commanded by General Kuribayashi himself, launched a suicide attack, at the bayonet, against the positions of the Americans in one of the airfields in the north of the island, facing melee with Marines of the 5th battalion, engineers and pilots, with the fight until dawn. This last action meant the death of all the Japanese and caused 100 dead and 200 wounded among the Americans. Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s body was never found.
The next day, the US high command declared the island of Iwo Jima under his final control. The US forces suffered 24,480 casualties of which 4,197 were directly killed in the clashes, 19,189 injured and 418 missing. Subsequently, 1,401 injured died as a result of the injuries received. On the Japanese side, 20,703 soldiers were killed, virtually all of the Iwo Jima garrison, among which was General Kuribayashi, and only 216 Japanese soldiers were taken prisoner.