Marines Invade Iwo Jima
On February 19, 1945, U.S. Marines made an amphibious landing on Iwo Jima, and were met immediately with unforeseen challenges. First and foremost, the beaches of the island were made up steep dunes of soft, gray volcanic ash, which made getting sturdy footing and passage for vehicles difficult.
As the Marines struggled forward, the Japanese lied in wait. The Americans assumed the pre-attack bombardment had been effective, and had crippled the enemy’s defenses on the island.
However, the lack of immediate response was simply part of Kuribayashi’s plan.
With the Americans struggling to get a foothold on the beaches of Iwo Jima – literally and figuratively – Kuribayashi’s artillery positions in the mountains above opened fire, stalling the advancing Marines and inflicting significant casualties.
Despite a banzai charge by dozens of Japanese soldiers as dusk fell, however, the Marines were eventually able to move in past the beach and seize part of one Iwo Jima’s airfields – the stated mission of the invasion. The fighting on Iwo Jima was some of the bloodiest and most costly in all of World War II, but it also gave rise to some of the greatest examples of patriotism and heroism in our Nation’s history, inspiring Admiral Chester Nimitz’s famous statement that “uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Battle of Iwo Jima Rages On
Within days, some 70,000 U.S. Marines landed on Iwo Jima. Although they significantly outnumbered their Japanese enemies on the island (by a more than three-to-one margin), many Americans were wounded or killed over the five weeks of fighting, with some estimates suggesting more than 25,000 casualties, including nearly 7,000 deaths.
The Japanese, meanwhile, were also suffering major losses, and were running low on supplies – namely, weapons and food. Under Kuribayashi’s leadership, they mounted most of their defenses via attacks under the cover of darkness.
While effective, the success of the Japanese forces seemed to merely forestall the inevitable.
Just four days into the fighting, U.S. Marines captured Mount Suribachi, on Iwo Jima’s south side, famously raising an American flag at the summit. That image was captured by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the iconic photograph.