The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the toughest fights in the Pacific War during World War 2.
The Japanese volcanic island of Iwo Jima, located 750 mi (1,200 km) south of Tokyo, was used by the Japanese for early warning and interception of the U.S. B-29 bombers that were conducting raids on Japan. Also, the United States were foreseeing an invasion of Japan itself, and Iwo Jima could be used as a staging area. Therefore, the Japanese, which saw an American invasion of Iwo Jima as quite probable, had prepared a formidable defense.
In early 1945, the U.S. military had an undisputed air and naval supremacy that left no doubt about who would win the battle, but the Japanese hoped to inflict as many casualties possible, thus deterring any invasion of mainland Japan.
Learning from the previous American invasions on other islands, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, commander of the Japanese forces of Iwo Jima, had organized a defense in depth, based on a network of bunkers connected by 11 mi (18 km) of underground tunnels. The Japanese had placed heavy machine guns, snipers, artillery, and tanks in well-camouflaged positions, which could support each other. Naval and air bombardments preceded the U.S. invasion, but these had a limited effect due to the heavily fortified Japanese positions.
On February 19, 1945, the first wave of U.S. Marines stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima. The Japanese let them advance inland, then opened the fire with machine guns from hidden positions and heavy artillery from Mount Suribachi.
The Marines suffered heavy casualties but, being supported by tanks, warships, and aircraft, managed to overcome the beaches and, by the end of the day, there were 30,000 of them on the island.
Since the Japanese defended in pillboxes and caves, some of the most effective weapons used by the Marines on Iwo Jima were the flamethrowers, both portable and on M4A3R3 Sherman tanks.
Mount Suribachi, in the south of the island, was isolated and conquered in about four days.
The strongest Japanese positions were in the north of the island and the Marines' attempts to occupy the area resulted initially in costly failures in terms of human lives. The Japanese tactic was to hide in fortifications or caves during the bombardments which preceded the American assaults, and then to come out, opening fire on the Marines.
When the 9th Marine Regiment attacked at night without the usual artillery barrage, the Japanese were taken completely by surprise, losing Hill 362 in the north of the island. The Japanese attempt to recapture it by a typical banzai charge failed.
The island was declared secure on March 26, 1945, but the victory came at a high price: of 70,000 Americans, 26,000 were casualties, including 6,800 killed. On the other hand, most of those 20,000 Japanese soldiers on the island were killed or missing.
The battle's cost has caused some people to question the strategic importance of the island compared to the price paid but the Battle of Iwo Jima has remained in legend, forging the esprit de corps of the U.S. Marines.