February-March, 1945: Battle for Iwo Jima Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The eight square miles of Iwo Jima, defended by Tadamichi Kuribayashi, served as the most important Japanese base in the Bonin-Volcano chain because its defenders could provide Japan with a two-hour advance warning of impending U.S. air attacks from the Marianas, and fighters from its airfields could intercept oncoming U.S. planes. Following a heavy but ineffective naval bombardment, U.S. Marines landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. The U.S. advance was hampered by volcanic sand and enemy defenses including miles of underground tunnels and trenches.

The eight square miles of Iwo Jima, defended by Tadamichi Kuribayashi, served as the most important Japanese base in the Bonin-Volcano chain because its defenders could provide Japan with a two-hour advance warning of impending U.S. air attacks from the Marianas, and fighters from its airfields could intercept oncoming U.S. planes. Following a heavy but ineffective naval bombardment, U.S. Marines landed on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. The U.S. advance was hampered by volcanic sand and enemy defenses including miles of underground tunnels and trenches.

One of the most dramatic photographs to come out of any war shows soldiers raising an American flag on Iwo Jima after U.S. troops captured the island. (National Archives)

Combat focal points were at Mount Suribachi (taken February 23), the airfields (taken February 24–28), and a central area of the island called “the Meatgrinder” (pacified in early March). Fighting ended with a futile nighttime Japanese banzai charge on March 26. The assault on the island, led by Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, killed 5,400 Americans and wounded 17,400 others. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz summed up the fight with the statement “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.” Only 216 Japanese surrendered.

Control of Iwo Jima provided U.S. bombers with fighter escorts to accompany them on their missions to Japan and gave crippled planes access to Allied airfields. Nimitz stated that more U.S. military personnel were thus saved than were lost in the island’s capture.

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