FORMAL FLAG-RAISING OVER BATTERED ISLAND

Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands March 14, 1945

On this date in 1945 the U.S. flag was raised over the 10‑sq‑mile island of Iwo Jima in a for­mal flag-raising cere­mony. The battle for the bar­ren Japa­nese-held island lying some 760 miles south­east of Tokyo was the most bitterly con­tested of the war. Its cap­ture was a pre­lude to the battle for Okinawa, 340 miles closer to the Japanese Home Islands.

Japanese Army and Navy troops had burrowed deep into the vol­ca­nic rock and powdery soil, creating a defen­sive strong­hold of well-con­cealed tunnels, bunkers, and machine-gun nests intended to inflict max­i­mum casual­ties on U.S. forces and delay their pro­gress toward their home­land. Each side inflicted enor­mous car­nage on the other, partly because the bar­ren terrain offered little cover, and partly because the key wea­pons for clearing out the thou­sands of Japa­nese posi­tions were hand gre­nades, hand­held flame­throwers, and “Ronson” or “Zippo” tanks that shot flaming liquid on targets almost 500 ft away.

Over 22,000 Japanese defenders died or committed suicide during the 36‑day cam­paign, which began on Febru­ary 19 when landing craft unloaded 30,000 men from the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Marine Divi­sions (the first of 70,000), along with am­phib­ious vehicles and equip­ment. Marines and sailors suffered over 6,700 killed out of some 26,500 casu­al­ties. Mt. Suri­bachi, the defining geo­graphical land­mark on the island and the site of the flag-raising made famous by Joe Rosen­thal’s iconic photo­graph, was captured on Febru­ary 23, but resis­tance con­tinued at the north end of the island for three more weeks.

Capturing Iwo Jima, which lay mid­way between the Mari­ana Islands and Japan, had been moti­vated by the desire to fly long-range P‑51 Mus­tang fighters from the island to escort four-engine B‑29 heavy bombers from their Mariana bases in day­light raids on Japan. That proved unneces­sary when U.S. Army Air Forces resorted to low-alti­tude (under 10,000 ft) night aerial attacks that met no signif­i­cant Japa­nese resis­tance. The island served as an emer­gency landing strip for Amer­i­can bombers for the rest of the war. Some 2,400 emer­gency stops were made over the next five months. Most of the landings were pre­cau­tionary, but if 10 per­cent of the crews were saved, that represented about 2,600 airmen.





Battle of Iwo Jima, February 19 to March 26, 1945

Iwo Jima map

Above: Location of Iwo Jima in relation to Tokyo (760 miles due north) and the Mariana Islands (Saipan, 650 miles to the south­east). Iwo Jima was a Japa­nese cita­del pro­tecting the home­land. Japa­nese air­craft from Iwo Jima were able to bomb U.S. B‑29 bases in the Marianas, and radio opera­tors on Iwo Jima were able to send advance warning to the Japa­nese Home Islands every time B‑29s passed north overhead.

Marines seek cover on Iwo Jima beach, February 21 or 22, 1945 Marine fires Browning M1917 machine gun at Japanese position

Left: Members of the 1st Battalion 23rd Marines burrow in the black vol­canic sand on an Iwo Jima beach while their fellow Marines unload supplies and equip­ment from landing craft under a rain of artillery fire from Japanese positions in the back­ground. Amphib­ious tractors floundered in the sandy soil and trenches and fox­holes collapsed as soon they were dug. Marines crawled across the island’s blasted landscape yard by yard.

Right: A Marine fires his Browning M1917 machine gun at a Japa­nese posi­tion. Marines encountered intense artil­lery fire on Iwo Jima. Japa­nese troops under their ingen­ious and cou­ra­geous com­mander, Gen. Tada­michi Kuri­ba­yashi, were respon­sible for the deaths of a third of all U.S. Marines killed during the entire four‑year Pacific con­flict. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines and sailors, many post­humously, more than were awarded for any other single operation during the war.

Firing on Japanese cave positions Joe Rosenthal's raising Stars and Stripes over Mt. Suribachi

Left: A U.S. 1.5‑in (37mm) gun fires against Japa­nese cave posi­tions in the north face of 556‑ft‑tall Mt. Suri­bachi. These light but extremely accu­rate wea­pons did some of their best work in the south­ern part of the island. Over 35 days approx­i­mately 28,000 com­batants died, in­cluding 6,821 Amer­i­cans and nearly 22,000 Japa­nese by fighting or ritual sui­cide, making Iwo Jima one of the cost­liest battles of World War II. Only 216 Japa­nese defenders were captured during the cataclysmic battle.

Right: Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning image depicts six Marines raising the Stars and Stripes over Mt. Suri­bachi five days into the Battle of Iwo Jima. Their flag, borrowed from an off­shore Navy ship, replaced a smaller one raised earlier in the day. Three of the flag-raisers—privates Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, and Harold Schultz (formerly thought to have been Phar­macy Mate Second Class John Bradley)—sur­vived the horrific com­bat. Bradley, Gagnon, and Hayes partici­pated in a war bonds tour in the States that featured reenactments of the flag raising.

The Battle of Iwo Jima, February–March 1945


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WWII Chronicles book coverHistory buffs, there is good news! The Daily Chronicles of World War II is now avail­able as an ebook for $4.99 on Amazon.com. Con­taining a year’s worth of dated entries from this web­site, the ebook brings the story of this tumul­tu­ous era to life in a com­pelling, author­i­ta­tive, and suc­cinct man­ner. Fea­turing inven­tive naviga­tion aids, the ebook enables readers to instantly move for­ward or back­ward by month and date to dif­fer­ent dated entries. Simple and elegant! Click here to purchase the ebook.