The Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier – Iwo Jima 15-19 February

 

Bombs from US Army 7th Air Force drop on Iwo Jima

The Battle of Iwo Jima was more than just another strategic island fight in the US military’s struggle with Imperial Japan during WWII. It was a key stepping stone for the planned invasion of Japan. It was a battle with heavy losses, great heroism, and eventual controversy.

By the start of 1945, the American military were planning an invasion of Japan, intended to take that country out of the war. In preparation, they began bombing campaigns against the Japanese mainland, softening it up ready for the attack. Everyone knew that it would be a brutal struggle – the Japanese were fighting tenaciously for every inch of ground, and would be even more determined in defending their homeland. But with the Manhattan Project still a closely guarded secret, to most people it looked like the only way to win the war.

Taking off from the Mariana Islands, B-29 Superfortresses took 3000 mile round trips to bomb Japan. It was a long journey, tough on the pilots, planes and fuel supplies. Flying so far from base, the Superfortresses lacked fighter protection, making them vulnerable to Japanese defenders.

Iwo Jima, regarded by the Japanese as an unsinkable aircraft carrier, lay only 760 miles from Japan. The Japanese were using its fighter base and radar to take out the American bombers. Capturing it would be a double victory for the Americans – taking out those defenses, and putting their own fighters close enough to support US bombers on raids over Japan.

USS New York firing 356mm guns on Iwo Jima, 16 Feb. 1945

Five miles long and two-and-a-half miles wide at its broadest, Iwo Jima was the best-defended spot in Japan’s Pacific empire. Its tough defenses were manned by 21,000 soldiers led by Lt.General Kuribayashi Tadamichi.  Delays in launching the invasion gave General Kuribayashi time to reinforce the defenses, despite bomber attacks.

Air strikes, rockets, napalm and the shells of naval guns pounded the defensive positions. Some bunkers and caves were destroyed, but the Japanese remained well dug in and determined. They had been preparing for this moment for nearly a year. They would not be easily broken.

On the night of 18 February 1945, Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, overall commander of the invasion, arrived at Iwo Jima along with Task Force 58, a vast carrier fleet.

As 19 February began, landing craft headed toward the beaches under a clear, bright sky. There would be no helpful gloom or fog to help the marines and soldiers hide from enemy guns.

The first troops, mostly marines  hit land at one minute to nine, welcomed by desultory fire from rifles and mortars, as you saw in the video.  Crossing the beaches, they hit fifteen-foot slopes of ash that had been spewed out by the island’s volcanic mountains. This soft black mass was tough to cross, forcing men to abandon equipment to continue their advance. It was impossible to dig foxholes in ash, the upside being that it absorbed some enemy shrapnel.

1st Battalion/23rd Marines burrow in on Yellow Beach

The slow rate of fire from the enemy made the Americans think they would face little opposition from a broken Japanese force, but  Kuribayashi had held back his men’s fire for an hour while the beaches became rammed full of troops and equipment – Then he unleashed the full fury of guns, mortars and artillery.

Under intense fire, the Americans pushed hard to get off the beaches and reach their objectives. Transport vehicles became bogged down in the ash, forcing men to slog through it on foot.

Japanese bunker on Iwo Jima

The Japanese held out in bunkers connected by a tunnel network. The Americans would clear out a bunker with grenades and flamethrowers then move on, only for the Japanese to reoccupy the bunker by underground routes and fire on them from behind.

By the end of 19 February, the 28th Marine Regiment had crossed the island at its narrowest point, where it was only half a mile across, cutting off the Japanese at Mount Suribachi. One of the two airfields had also been taken.

References: Hyperwar; WW2today; War Histor online

Click on images to enlarge.

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Military Humor – 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Clyde Barth – McAlisterville, PA; US Army, WWII / USMC, Korea

Linda Campbell – Portland, OR; US Air Force (Ret.), Lt.Colonel

Michael Ferriolo – Corona, NY; US Army, Medical Corps

William Hartley – Macon, GA; US Army, Medical Corps, Captain

George Lagasse – Manchester, NH; US Navy, WWII, USS Essex

Basil Nickerson – Ketchikan, AK; US Navy, WWII, USS Broome

Ono ‘Peggy’ Olson – Ferryville, WI; US Navy WAVES, WWII, 12th Regiment

Billy Sheppard – Alamogordo, NM; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS Hudson

Johnny Weidkamp – Bellingham, WA; US Merchant Marine, WWII

John Zucco – Boston, MA; USMC, WWII, USS Alaska

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on March 15, 2018, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 79 Comments.

  1. Pierre Lagacé

    I am catching up on your posts GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A very tough and important battle.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly, Lloyd. People debate about this because of its proximity to Japan and the amount of people killed – I feel we can not judge with today’s attitudes decisions made 75 years previous. It was an important battle indeed!

      Liked by 1 person

      • MacArthur was island hopping, if he wanted to go for it there would have been a reason. You can argue these points with something like Balikapan but in the end it doesn’t matter. They were all a waste, all horrible and they happened. The fact that people died there means it matters. Remember them, mourn them and try to honour them by not repeating human nature. What else is needed to found in the reasoning of that battle or any battle.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This post brought to mind the recent discovery of the USS Lexington off the Queensland coast 76 years after it sank.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Just last night I had dinner with friends, and one mentioned that his father, a doctor, had been on Iwo Jima. If I’d read this, I would have asked more questions, but the next time the opportunity presents itself, I will. It’s another indication of how pervasive the effects of the war were, and how many connections to those events still exist. It’s heartening to know that even in casual conversation today, all of this still can come alive.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly so, Linda. Even today I had someone feel that if we quit talking about, it just might go away. If that were true, a lot of problems would go away by being ignored – right?! I can’t imagine the stories his father would be able to tell, a doctor on Iwo!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think our experiences were so different and so stark. I remember being about 6 or 7 and thinking that someone, somewhere was fighting in the war as several of my friends had fathers away in different fields of combat.

    I had uncles serving in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. My father was in a key civilian position and though too old for combat service, was part of the civil defence in his spare time, We could not escape the reality of the war, it was all around us here in UK.

    Subsequently, I have learned from those who were physically caught up in the horrors of being trapped by the invading armies of both sides- depending which side you were part of – who have described just what it felt like.

    War is an ugly business and it’s time it was consigned to history, and kept there as an antique of little value.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree that no one knows the horrors of war as those who lived through it. We were not bombed as the UK was, but every person in some way shape or form was affected by this war – something our current generations can not relate to. Without knowing what devastation a war can bring, it leaves that as an opportune choice of getting your way – as so many countries and their rulers are trying to do as we speak. Without learning what an awful business war can be – it will go on and on indefinitely.

      Like

  6. Grim, but crucial work. The video is excellent. Do you speak Dutch (is is Dutch) as well as your other talents?

    Liked by 2 people

    • No, I’m afraid as hard as I’ve tried, I’ve never mastered a foreign language. I must rely on Google Translate to read and write to people who do not speak English. If they are kind enough to come here, I feel I should reply in their language.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It had to have been brutal—on both sides.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. https://wp.me/p9JKqc-H
    Please like and follow my blog

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Zoals altijd weer een heel knap artikel

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I believe Iwo Jima is recorded in American history as a major part of the Pacific war, recorded in song and also words.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for that link – the video is fantastic. Don’t you love it when the narrator says, “But the US Marines didn’t know the meaning of the word impossible.” It must remind you of the Aussies in New Guinea!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Excellent, GP. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. How anyone got up that beach is just incredible.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I think of the island but rarely remember the aircraft carrier. Hard to imagine anything 5 miles long and 2 miles wide can float.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Excellent article, I enjoyed the read so I am going to reblog this one for you.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Admiral Spruance is seldom remembered today. He was one of the quiet heroes of the war in the Pacific. Admiral Spruance, Admiral Kelly Turner, Admiral Charles Lockwood (submarines) and Admiral Chester Nimitz and their wives are all buried in a row in the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, CA. They wanted to be buried together and stipulated that they not be given any special grave marker. They wanted a regular grave marker and to be buried among the ranks with whom they served.

    https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fni05 (scroll down for photo)

    https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/2154

    Liked by 4 people

  16. What a tenacious group of men on both sides. I can’t imagine the thoughts that must have crossed these young men’s minds s they struggled to carry out their duty and save their lives. That volcanic ash would have really added to the problems. Thanks for another great history lesson.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The ash was great at absorbing the Japanese shrapnel, but otherwise, yes – it was a hindrance to man and machine! Thank you for reading here today, Bev!

      Like

  17. Amazing story. Unsinkable isn’t is it. I read about the sinking of the unsinkable Yamato, in the Battle of Okinawa. The Japanese were pulling out all the stops by that point, weren’t they.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Most definitely, Jacqui. I’m hoping to get Nasuko’s opinions when I get to the Yamato. That was one beautiful ship, it was a shame she had to go down.

      Like

  18. Thank you for all the details. I did not know any of this.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I am always eager for the next chapter, G. Interesting discussion with poolsoren. I am sure there must be lots of studies out there that show the most effective way of training soldiers. I’ve always assumed that the screaming was standard operating procedure. If there is a better way…

    Liked by 3 people

  20. I always wonder about debating these battles with the benefit of actual history in hand. Decisions were being made with the information that had at the time, and the ability they had at the time to support operations. Also, I’m sure the pace of the war in Europe played into the decisions.

    All I know is that a lot of brave soldiers fought a very hard battle.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I had a great Uncle who served as a fighter mechanic, I am assuming on a carrier, but later on the island itself. I will have to check and see. What a battle it was though. I have read a lot about it over the years..

    Liked by 2 people

  22. My dad had just turned 19 less than two weeks before the battle began. He was aboard the USS Sanborn and during the battle he drove a Higgins Boat, LCVP, carrying Marines in and casualties out. It was his first real battle. I cannot imagine the thoughts that would have gone through the minds of these sailors and Marines, and yet they did as they were asked to do.

    Liked by 6 people

  23. Such a hard fight to secure the airfields. But it may well have hastened the end of the war against Japan.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Very full account GP. But about the picture of the recruit being screamed at – it is repeated time and again in every movie I have ever seen. In my years in the Australian Army I never ever saw a drill Sgt treating the recruits like that. But Aussie soldiers usually turn out pretty good. Is there something about the US Army that reflects a part of the American nature that is different from the Australian?

    Liked by 4 people

    • I have no idea, Paol. I knew the reputation of the Australian soldiers long before I ever started this research. Off the top of my head, I’m going to make a supposition (something I really shouldn’t do, but…), I think our generations after the war had things rather easy and the thought is to turn the troops into the type of soldiers their fathers were. Their fathers went through the Great Depression and survived and then rolled slap into a world war – how does one duplicate that sort of grit?

      Liked by 1 person

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