Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima is an iconic photograph taken on
February 23, 1945 by Joe Rosenthal.
It depicts five United States Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman raising the Flag of the United States atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.
The photograph was instantly popular, being reprinted in hundreds of publications.
Later, it became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication, and ultimately came to be regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images in history, and possibly the most reproduced photograph of all time.
Of the six men depicted in the picture,
three (Franklin Sousley, Harlon Block, and Michael Strank) did not survive the battle; the three survivors (John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes) became suddenly famous.
The photograph was later used by Felix de Weldon to sculpt the
USMC War Memorial, located just outside Washington, D.C.
Battle of Iwo Jima
On February 19, 1945, as part of their island hopping strategy to defeat Japan, the United States invaded Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima was originally not a target, but the relatively quick fall of the Philippines left the Americans with a longer-than-expected lull prior to the planned invasion of Okinawa.
Iwo Jima is located half-way between Japan and the Mariana Islands, where American long-range bombers were based, and was used by the Japanese as an early warning station, radioing warnings of incoming American bombers to the Japanese homeland.
The Americans, after capturing the island, deprived the Japanese of their early warning system, and used it as an emergency landing strip for damaged bombers, saving many American lives.
Iwo Jima is a volcanic island, shaped like a trapezoid.
The island was heavily fortified, and the invading
United States Marines suffered extremely high casualties
—it was the only invasion of the American offensive in the Pacific war in which the Americans suffered higher casualties than the Japanese.
The island is dominated by Mount Suribachi, a 546 foot (166 m) dormant volcanic cone situated on the southern tip of the island. Politically, the island is part of the prefecture of Tokyo
—the mayor of Tokyo is the mayor of Iwo Jima.
It would be the first Japanese homeland soil to be captured by the Americans, and it was a matter of honor for the Japanese to prevent its capture.
Tactically, the top of Suribachi is one of the most important locations on the island.
From that vantage point, the Japanese defenders were able to accurately spot artillery onto the Americans
- particularly the landing beaches.
The Japanese fought most of the battle from underground bunkers and pillboxes.
It was not uncommon for Marines to knock out one pillbox using grenades or a flamethrower, only to have it begin shooting again a few minutes later
after more Japanese infantry slipped into the pillbox using a tunnel.
The American effort concentrated on isolating and capturing Suribachi first,
a goal that was achieved on February 23, 1945, four days after the
Despite capturing Suribachi, the battle continued to rage for many days,
and the island would not be declared "secure" until 31 days later, on
March 26, 1945.
Raising the flag
The famous picture taken by Rosenthal actually captured the second
flag-raising event of the day.
A U.S. flag was first raised atop Suribachi soon after it was captured early in the morning of February 23, 1945.
Captain Dave E. Severance, the commander of Easy Company
(2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division), ordered
Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier USMC to take a patrol to raise an
American flag at the summit to signal to others that it had fallen.
After a fire-fight, a 54-by-28 inch (137-by-71 cm) flag was raised,
and photographed by Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery USMC,
a photographer with Leatherneck magazine.
However, the first flag raised by the Marines was too small to be seen
easily from the nearby landing beaches.
The Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, had decided the previous night that he wanted to go ashore and witness the final stage of the fight for the mountain.
Now, under a stern commitment to take order from Howlin' Mad Smith,
the secretary was churning ashore in the company of the blunt, earthy general.
Their boat touched the beach just after the flag went up, and the mood among the high command turned jubilant.
Gazing upward, at the red, white, and blue speck, Forrestal remarked to Smith:
“Holland, the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps
for the next five hundred years.”
Forrestal was so taken with fervor of the moment that he decided he wanted the Suribachi flag as a souvenir.
The news of this wish did not sit well with [2nd Battalion Commander] Chandler Johnson USMC, whose temperament was every bit as fiery
as Howlin Mad's.
'To hell with that!' the colonel spat when the message reached him.
The flag belonged to the battalion, as far as Johnson was concerned.
He decided to secure it as soon as possible, and dispatched his assistant operations officer, Lieutenant Ted Tuttle USMC, to the beach to scare up a replacement flag.
As an afterthought, Johnson called after Tuttle
“And make it a bigger one.”
Michael Strank USMC, Harlon BlockUSMC, Ira HayesUSMC, and
Franklin Sousley USMC spent the morning of the 23rd laying a
telephone wire to the top of Suribachi, on orders from
Colonel Chandler Johnson USMC, passed on by
Captain Severance USMC.
Severance also dispatched Rene Gagnon USMC, a runner,
to the command post for fresh SCR-300 batteries.
Meanwhile, according to the official Marine Corps history,
Tuttle had found a flag in nearby LST 779, made his way back to
the command post, and gave it to Johnson.
Johnson, in turn, gave it to Gagnon with orders to take it back up
Suribachi and raise it.
The official Marine Corps history of the event is that Tuttle received the
flag from Ensign Alan Wood USN of LST 779, who in turn had received the
flag from a supply depot in Pearl Harbor.
However, the Coast Guard Historian’s Office supports claims made by
Robert Resnick USN, who served aboard LST 758.
"Before he died in November 2004, Resnick said Gagnon came aboard
LST-758 the morning of Feb. 23 looking for a flag.
Resnick said he grabbed one from a bunting box and asked permission from commanding officer Lt. Felix Molenda USN to donate it.
Resnick kept quiet about his participation until 2001."
The Marines reached the top of the mountain around noon,
where Gagnon joined them.
Despite the large numbers of Japanese troops in the immediate vicinity,
the 40-man patrol made it to the top of the mountain without being fired at once, as the Japanese were under bombardment at the time.
Rosenthal, along with Marine photographers Bob Campbell USMC and
Bill Genaust USMC (who was killed in action nine days after the flag raising)was climbing Suribachi at this time.
On the way up, the trio met Lowery
(the man who photographed the first flag raising).
They had been considering turning around, but Lowery told them
that the summit was an excellent vantage point from which to take pictures.
Along with Navy corpsman Bradley, the Marines raised the U.S. flag using
an old Japanese water pipe for a flagpole.
Rosenthal's trio reached the summit as the marines were attaching the flag to the pipe.
Rosenthal put down his Speed Graphic camera
(which was set to 1/400th of a second shutter speed,
with the f-stop between 8 and 16)
on the ground so he could pile rocks to stand on for a better vantage point.
In doing so, he nearly missed the shot.
Realizing he was about to miss it, Rosenthal quickly swung his camera up
and snapped the photograph without using the viewfinder.
Ten years after the flag-raising, Rosenthal wrote:
Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen the men start the flag up.
I swung my camera and shot the scene.
That is how the picture was taken, and when you take a picture like that,
you don't come away saying you got a great shot.
You don't know.
Bill Genaust, who was standing almost shoulder-to-shoulder with
Rosenthal about thirty yards from the flag raising,
was shooting motion-picture film during the flag-raising.
His film also captures the flag raising at an almost-identical angle to Rosenthal's famous shot.
Of the six men pictured
—Michael Strank, Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, John Bradley
(the Navy corpsman), and Harlon Block—
only three (Hayes, Gagnon, and Bradley) survived the battle.
Strank was killed six days after the flag raising when a shell
(likely fired from an offshore American destroyer) tore his heart out;
Block was killed by a mortar a few hours after Strank;
and Sousley was killed by a sniper on March 21, a few days before the
Island was declared secure.
Publication and staging controversy
Following the flag raising, Rosenthal sent his film to Guam to be
developed and printed.
George Tjaden of Hendricks, Minnesota was likely the technician who
Upon seeing it, AP photo editor John Bodkin exclaimed
"Here's one for all time!"
and immediately radiophotoed the image to the AP headquarters in
New York at seven A.M., Eastern War Time.
The photograph was picked up off the wire very quickly by hundreds of newspapers.
"was distributed by Associated Press within seventeen and one-half hours after Rosenthal shot it
—an astonishingly fast turnaround time in those days."
However, the photo was not without controversy.
Following the second flag raising, Rosenthal had the Marines of
Easy Company pose for a group shot, which he called the
This was also documented by Bill Genaust.
A few days after the picture was taken, back on Guam, Rosenthal was
asked if he had posed the photo.
Thinking the questioner was referring to the 'gung-ho' picture,
After that, Robert Sherrod, a Time-Life correspondent, told his editors in
New York that Rosenthal had staged the flag-raising photo.
TIME's radio show, 'Time Views the News', broadcast a report,
"Rosenthal climbed Suribachi after the flag had already been planted...
Like most photographers (he) could not resist reposing his characters
in historic fashion."
As a result of this report, Rosenthal was repeatedly accused of having
staged the picture, or covering up the first flag raising.
One New York Times book reviewer even went so far as to suggest
revoking his Pulitzer Prize.
For the decades that have followed, Rosenthal repeatedly and vociferously refuted claims that the flag raising was staged.
"I don't think it is in me to do much more of this sort of thing...
I don't know how to get across to anybody what 50 years of constant repetition means."
Genaust's film also shows the claim that the flag raising was staged to be erroneous.
The 7th war bond drive and the sixth man controversy
Upon seeing the photo, President Franklin D. Roosevelt realized the
picture would make an excellent symbol for the upcoming 7th war bond drive, and ordered the Marines identified and brought home.
The Marines were brought home at the conclusion of the battle.
Using a photo enlargement, Rene Gagnon identified the others in the photograph, but refused to identify the sixth man (Hayes), insisting he
had promised to keep the man's name a secret.
Gagnon had promised not to discuss Hayes's identity only because Hayes
—who despised Gagnon—had threatened to kill him.
After being brought to Marine Corps headquarters and informed that he was being ordered by the President to reveal the information, and that refusing
an order to reveal the name would be a serious crime, Gagnon
revealed Hayes's name.
Gagnon also misidentified Harlon Block as Sergeant Henry O. "Hank" HansenUSMC, who had not survived the battle
(but who had, incidentally, participated in the first flag raising).
On April 8, 1945, the Marines Corps released the identification of five of
the flag raisers (including Hansen)
—Sousley's identity was withheld pending notification of his family of his death during the battle.
The three survivors went on a whirlwind bond tour.
The tour was a smashing success, raising $23.3 billion, twice the tour's goal.
Questions lingered about the misidentification of Harlon Block.
His mother, Belle Block, refused to accept the official identification,
noting that she had
"changed so many diapers on that boy's butt, I know it's my boy."
Immediately on arrival in Washington, D.C. on April 19, Hayes noticed the misidentification in the photo, and noted this to the Marine public relations officer who had been assigned to him.
The public relations officer told Hayes that the identifications had already been officially released, and ordered Hayes to keep silent about it.
Over a year and a half later, amidst the depression and alcoholism that would characterize the rest of his life following the war, Ira Hayes hitchhiked
to Texas to inform Block's family that Block had, in fact, been the
sixth flag raiser.
Ira remembered what Rene Gagnon and John Bradley could not have remembered, because they did not join the little cluster until the last moment:
that it was Harlon [Block], Mike [Strank], Franklin [Sousley]
and himself [Hayes] who had ascended Suribachi midmorning
to lay telephone wire;
it was Rene [Gagnon] who had come along with the replacement flag. Hansen had not been part of this action.
Block's mother, Belle, immediately composed a letter to her
congressional representative Milton West.
West, in turn, forwarded the letter to Marine Corps Commandant
Alexander Vandegrift USMC, who ordered an investigation.
Both Bradley and Gagnon, upon being shown the evidence,
agreed that it was probably Block and not Hansen.
Rosenthal's photo won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Photography, the first and only photograph to win the prize in the same year it was taken.
Following publication of the photograph,
"News pros were not the only ones bedazzled by the photo.
USN Captain T.B. Clark USN on duty at Patuxent Air Station in Maryland that Saturday when it came humming off the wire.
He studied it for a minute, and then thrust it under the gaze of Navy
Petty Officer Felix de Weldon USN.
DeWeldon was an Austrian immigrant schooled in European painting and sculpture.
De Weldon could not take his eyes off the photo.
In its classic triangular lines he recognized similarities with the ancient statues he had studied.
He reflexively reached for some sculptor's clay and tools.
With the photograph before him he labored through the night.
By dawn, he had replicated the six boys pushing a pole, raising a flag."
Starting in 1951, de Weldon was commissioned to design a memorial to the Marine Corps.
It took De Weldon and hundreds of his assistants three years to finish it.
The three survivors posed for DeWeldon, who used their faces as a model. The other three who did not survive were sculpted from pictures.
Most people are unaware that the flag raising Rosenthal photographed was the second that day.
This led to resentment from those marines who took part in the
nearly-forgotten first flag raising.
Chuck Lindberg, who participated in the first flag raising
(and who as of 2005 is the last living person depicted in either flag raising complained that he
"was called a liar and everything else.
It was terrible."
The photograph is currently in the possession of Roy H. Williams,
who bought it from the estate of John Faber,
the official historian for the National Press Photographers Association,
who had received it from Rosenthal.
Both flags (from the first and second flag raisings) are now located in the
U.S. Marine Corps museum at the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.
Following the war, plagued with depression brought on by survivor guilt, Hayes became an alcoholic.
His tragic life was memorialized in the country song
"The Ballad of Ira Hayes", written by Peter LaFarge and recorded by
Johnny Cash in 1964.
Bob Dylan later covered the song, as did author and singer
The song notes that after the war,
"Then Ira started drinkin' hard/Jail was often his home/They'd let him raise the flag and lower it/Like you'd throw a dog a bone!/He died drunk one mornin'/Alone in the land he fought to save/Two inches of water in a lonely ditch/Was a grave for Ira Hayes."
Following the war, Bradley was staunchly tight-lipped about his experiences, often deflecting questions by claiming he had forgotten.
During his 47 year marriage, he only talked about it with his wife Betty once, on their first date, and never again afterwards.
Within the family, it was considered a taboo subject.
He gave exactly one interview, in 1985, at the urging of his wife,
who had told him to do it for the sake of their grandchildren.
Following Bradley's death in 1994, his family went to Suribachi in 1997
and placed a plaque (made of Wisconsin granite and shaped like that state) on the spot where the flag raising took place.
At the time of his death, Bradley's son, James Bradley knew almost nothing of his father's wartime experiences.
As a catharsis, James Bradley spent four years interviewing the families of all the flag raisers, and published Flags of Our Fathers, a definitive book on the flag raising and its participants.
This book has inspired a 2006 movie of the same name.
The Iwo Jima flag raising has been depicted in other films including
1949's Sands of Iwo Jima
(in which the three surviving flag raisers make a cameo appearance at the end of the film) and
1961's The Outsider (a biography of Ira Hayes starring Tony Curtis).
Rosenthal's photograph has been reproduced in a number of other formats.
It appeared on 3.5 million posters for the 7th war bond drive.
In September 1945, the United States Post Office released a postage stamp bearing the image
(despite a policy at the time of not featuring living people on stamps).
For many years, it was the best selling stamp in the history of the
US Post Office, eventually selling over 137 million.
The stamp was re-released in 1995.
The composition of the photo has since been replicated in other facets of popular culture
— such as an appearance in the cover artwork for Terry Pratchett's novel Monstrous Regiment, and the logo of the NetBSD operating system from 1994 to 2004.
A similar photograph was taken by Thomas E. Franklin of the
Bergen Record in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Officially known as "Ground Zero Spirit", the photograph is perhaps better known as "Raising the Flag at Ground Zero", and shows three firefighters raising a US flag in the ruins of the World Trade Center shortly after 5pm on September 11, 2001.
The Battle of Iwo Jima (Operation Detachment) was fought between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan during February and March of 1945, during the Pacific Campaign of World War II.
As a result of the battle, the United States gained control of the island of
Iwo Jima, and the airfields located there.
The battle is famous for the image of American troops raising the US flag atop Mount Suribachi during the battle.
Japan suffered a heavy loss; about 22,000 Japanese troops were entrenched on the island, and only 1083 survived.
The fighting was intense and the American troops captured the highest point, Mount Suribachi, in the first week of fighting.
The United States lost a total of 6,821 men in the battle for the Island.
The U.S. was obviously gaining ground in the Pacific theater at this point in the war, and the victory at Iwo Jima was another step towards the main islands of Japan.
Iwo Jima was of strategic importance to the United States because it would provide a landing/re-fueling site for American bombers on missions to and from Japan.
Many of the planes had difficulty making it back to the nearest American base on Guam or Tinian in the Mariana Islands.
This was due to several factors:
The vast distances involved meant that B-29 bombers on their way to
or from bombing Japan were at the limit of their range.
The Japanese installation on Iwo Jima contained radar with which they notified their comrades at home of the incoming B-29s.
The Japanese had fighter aircraft on Iwo Jima which shot down many of the B-29s.
The bombers were especially vulnerable on their way to Japan because they were heavily laden with bombs and fuel.
U.S. Army Air Force General Curtis LeMay declared to
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur that his 20th Air Force could not sustain these losses.
Therefore, the decision to invade was taken. The island of Iwo Jima would provide an airstrip closer to Japan for planes seeking repair or in need of fuel.
In addition, it would eliminate the Japanese radar and fighter installations.
For the Japanese, it was a loss of native soil and a sign of impending defeat.
Iwo Jima is one of the Volcano Islands, part of the Ogasawara Islands, a group of islands about 670 miles (1,080 km) south of Tokyo, 700 miles (1,130 km) north of Guam, and nearly halfway between Tokyo and Saipan (24.754°N, 141.290°E).
It is a part of the Tokyo Prefecture, and as such, constituted the first part of Japan's home territories to fall to the Allies during World War II.
In the wake of the American seizure of the Marshall Islands and devastating air attacks against Truk in the Caroline Islands in February 1944,
the Japanese military leadership conducted a reappraisal of the military situation.
All indications pointed to an American drive towards the
Marianas and Carolines.
To counter such a move, they established an inner line of defense extending generally northward from the Carolines to the Marianas, and thence to the Ogasawara Islands.
In March 1944, the Thirty-First Army, commanded by
General Hideyoshi Obata, was activated for the purpose of garrisoning this inner line.
The commander of the Chichi Jima garrison was placed nominally in command of Army and Navy units in the Ogasawara Islands.
Following the American seizure of bases in the Marshalls in the battles of Kwajalein and Eniwetok in February 1944, both Army and Navy reinforcements were sent to Iwo Jima.
Five hundred men from the naval base at Yokosuka and an additional
500 from Chichi Jima reached Iwo Jima during March and April 1944.
At the same time, with the arrival of reinforcements from Chichi Jima and the home islands, the Army garrison on Iwo Jima had reached a strength of over 5,000 men, equipped with 13 artillery pieces, 200 light and heavy machine guns, and 4,552 rifles.
In addition, the defense boasted 120 mm coast artillery guns,
twelve heavy anti-aircraft guns, and
thirty 25 mm dual-mount anti-aircraft guns.
The loss of the Marianas during the summer of 1944 greatly increased the importance of the Ogasawaras for the Japanese, who were fully cognizant that the loss of these islands would facilitate American air raids against the home islands.
Such raids, beyond any doubt, would raise havoc with the entire Japanese war production program, and deal a severe blow to civilian morale.
Final Japanese plans for the defense of the Ogasawaras were overshadowed by the fact that the Imperial Japanese Navy had already lost most of its strength and no longer constituted a major factor in frustrating possible American landings.
Moreover, aircraft losses throughout 1944 had been so heavy that, even if war production was not materially slowed by American air attacks, combined Japanese air strength was not expected to increase to 3,000 aircraft until March or April of 1945.
Even then, these planes could not be used from bases in the home islands against Iwo Jima because their range did not exceed 550 miles (890 km); besides, all available aircraft had to be hoarded for possible use on Taiwan and adjacent islands where land bases were available in proximity.
In the battle of Iwo Jima the Japanese only used ground units; no planes or boats of any kind were involved.
In a postwar study, Japanese staff officers described the strategy applied in the defense of Iwo Jima in the following terms:
In the light of the above situation, seeing that it was impossible to conduct our air, sea, and ground operations on Iwo Jima toward ultimate victory, it was decided that in order to gain time necessary for the preparation of the Homeland defense, our forces should rely solely upon the established defensive equipment in that area, checking the enemy by delaying tactics.
Even the suicidal attacks by small groups of our Army and Navy airplanes,
the surprise attacks by our submarines, and the actions of parachute units, although effective, could be regarded only as a strategical ruse on our part.
It was a most depressing thought that we had no available means left for the exploitation of the strategical opportunities which might from time to time occur in the course of these operations.
In the opening days of 1945, Japan faced the prospect of invasion by the Allied forces.
Daily bomber raids from the Marianas hit the mainland as part of
Iwo Jima served as an early warning station which would radio reports of incoming bombers back to mainland Japan.
When Allied bombers arrived over Japanese cities the Japanese air defenses would be ready and waiting for them.
At the end of the Battle of Leyte in the Philippines, the Allies were left with
a 2-month lull in their operations prior to the planned invasion of Okinawa, which was considered unacceptable.
Thus, the decision was made to invade Iwo Jima.
The landing was designated Operation Detachment.
Japanese defense preparations
Even before the fall of Saipan in June 1944, Japanese planners knew that
Iwo Jima would have to be reinforced materially if it were to be held for any length of time, and preparations were made to send sizable numbers of men and quantities of material to that island.
In late May, Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi was summoned to the office of the Prime Minister, General Hideki Tojo, who informed the general that he had been chosen to defend Iwo Jima to the last.
Kuribayashi was further apprised of the importance of this assignment when Tojo pointed out that the eyes of the entire nation were focused on the defense of Iwo Jima.
Fully aware of the implications of the task entrusted to him, the general accepted.
By 8 June 1944, Kuribayashi was on his way to his toughest and final assignment, determined to convert Iwo Jima into an invincible fortress that would withstand any type of attack from any quarter.
When he arrived, some 80 fighter aircraft were stationed on Iwo Jima, but by early July there were just four left.
A United States Navy force appeared within sight of the island and subjected the Japanese to a naval bombardment from point-blank range over two days.
This shelling destroyed every building on the island and
smashed the four remaining aircraft.
Much to the surprise of the Japanese garrison on Iwo Jima,
an American invasion of the island did not materialize during the summer of 1944.
There was little doubt that in time the Americans would be compelled to attack the island.
General Kuribayashi was more determined than ever to exact the heaviest possible price for Iwo Jima when the invaders came.
Without naval and air support, it was a foregone conclusion that Iwo could not hold out indefinitely against an invader possessing both
naval and air supremacy.
As a first step in readying Iwo Jima for a prolonged defense, the island commander ordered the evacuation of all civilians from the island.
This was accomplished by late July.
Next came an overall plan for defense of the island.
Lieutenant General Hideyoshi Obata,
Commanding General of the Thirty-First Army, early in 1944 had
been responsible for the defense of Iwo Jima prior to his return to the Marianas.
At the time, faithful to the doctrine that an invasion had to be met practically at the water's edge, Obata had ordered the emplacement of artillery and the construction of pillboxes near the beaches.
General Kuribayashi had different ideas. Instead of a futile effort to hold the beaches, he planned to defend the latter with a sprinkling of automatic weapons and infantry.
Artillery, mortars, and rockets would be emplaced on the foot and slopes of Mount Suribachi, as well as in the high ground to the north of Chidori airfield.
Caves and tunnels
A prolonged defense of the island required the preparation of an extensive system of caves and tunnels, for the naval bombardment had clearly shown that surface installations could not withstand extensive shelling.
To this end, mining engineers were dispatched from Japan to draw blueprints for projected underground fortifications that would consist of elaborate tunnels at varying levels to assure good ventilation and minimize the effect of bombs or shells exploding near the entrances or exits.
At the same time, reinforcements were gradually
beginning to reach the island.
As commander of the 109th Infantry Division, General Kuribayashi decided first of all to shift the 2nd Independent Mixed Brigade, consisting of about 5,000 men under Major General Kotau Osuga, from Chichi to Iwo.
With the fall of Saipan, 2,700 men of the 145th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Masuo Ikeda, were diverted to Iwo Jima.
These reinforcements, who reached the island during July and August 1944, brought the strength of the garrison up to approximately 12,700 men.
Next came 1,233 members of the 204th Naval Construction Battalion,
who quickly set to work constructing concrete pillboxes and other fortifications.
On 10 August 1944, Rear Admiral Toshinosuke Ichimaru reached Iwo Jima, shortly followed by 2,216 naval personnel, including naval aviators and ground crews.
The admiral, a renowned Japanese aviator, had been crippled in an airplane crash in the mid-twenties and, ever since the outbreak of the war, had chafed under repeated rear echelon assignments.
Next to arrive on Iwo Jima were artillery units and five antitank battalions.
Even though numerous supply ships on route to Iwo Jima were sunk by American submarines and aircraft, substantial quantities of materiel did reach Iwo during the summer and autumn of 1944.
By the end of the year, General Kuribayashi had available to him
361 artillery pieces of 75 mm or larger caliber, a dozen 320 mm mortars,
65 medium (150 mm) and light (81 mm) mortars, 33 naval guns 80 mm or larger, and 94 anti-aircraft guns 75 mm or larger.
In addition to this formidable array of large caliber guns, the Iwo defenses could boast of more than two hundred 20 mm and 25 mm antiaircraft guns and sixty-nine 37 mm and 47 mm antitank guns.
The fire power of the artillery was further supplemented with a variety of rockets varying from an eight-inch type that weighed 90 kg and could travel 2–3 km, to a giant 250 kg projectile that had a range of more than 7 km.
Altogether, 70 rocket guns and their crews reached Iwo Jima.
In order to further strengthen the Iwo defenses, the 26th Tank Regiment, which had been stationed at Pusan, Korea after extended service in Manchuria, received orders for Iwo Jima.
The officer commanding this regiment was
Lieutenant Colonel Baron Takeichi Nishi.
The regiment, consisting of 600 men and 28 tanks, sailed from
Japan in mid-July on board the Nisshu Maru.
As the ship, sailing in a convoy, approached Chichi Jima on 18 July 1944,
it was torpedoed by an American submarine, USS Cobia.
Even though only two members of the 26th Tank Regiment were sunk,
all of the regiment's 28 tanks went to the bottom of the sea.
It would be December before these tanks could be replaced,
but 22 finally reached Iwo Jima.
Initially, Colonel Nishi had planned to employ his armor as a type of
"roving fire brigade", to be committed at focal points of combat.
The rugged terrain precluded such employment and in the end, under the colonel's watchful eyes, the tanks were deployed in static positions.
They were either buried or their turrets were dismounted and so skillfully emplaced in the rocky ground that they were practically invisible from the air or from the ground.
For the remainder of 1944, the construction of fortifications on Iwo also went into high gear.
The Japanese were quick to discover that the black volcanic ash that existed in abundance all over the island could be converted into concrete of superior quality when mixed with cement.
Pillboxes near the beaches north of Mount Suribachi were constructed of reinforced concrete, many of them with walls four feet thick.
At the same time, an elaborate system of caves, concrete blockhouses,
and pillboxes was established.
One of the results of American air attacks and naval bombardment in the early summer of 1944 had been to drive the Japanese so deep underground that eventually their defenses became virtually immune to
air or naval bombardment.
While the Japanese on Peleliu Island in the Western Carolines, also awaiting American invasion, had turned the improvement of natural caves into an art, the defenders of Iwo developed it into a science.
Because of the importance of the underground positions, 25% of the garrison was detailed to tunneling.
Positions constructed underground ranged in size from small caves for a few men to several underground chambers capable of holding 300 or 400 men.
In order to prevent personnel from becoming trapped in any one excavation, the subterranean installations were provided with multiple entrances and exits, as well as stairways and interconnecting passageways.
Special attention had to be paid to providing adequate ventilation, since sulphur fumes were present in many of the underground installations. Fortunately for the Japanese, most of the volcanic stone on Iwo was so soft that it could be cut with hand tools.
General Kuribayashi established his command post in the northern part of the island, about 500 m northeast of Kita village and south of Kitano Point.
This installation, 20 m underground, consisted of caves of varying sizes, connected by 150 m of tunnels.
Here the island commander had his own war room in one of three small concrete enclosed chambers; the two similar rooms were used by the staff. Farther south on Hill 382, the second highest elevation on the island, the Japanese constructed a radio and weather station.
Nearby, on an elevation just southeast of the station, an enormously large blockhouse was constructed which served as the headquarters of
Colonel Chosaku Kaido, who commanded all artillery on Iwo Jima.
Other hills in the northern portion of the island were tunnelled out.
All of these major excavations featured multiple entrances and exits and were virtually invulnerable to damage from artillery or aerial bombardment.
Typical of the thoroughness employed in the construction of subterranean defenses was the main communications center south of Kita village,
which was so spacious that it contained a chamber 50 m long and 20 m wide.
This giant structure was similar in construction and thickness of walls and ceilings to General Kuribayashi's command post.
A 150 m tunnel 20 m below the ground led into this vast subterranean chamber.
Perhaps the most ambitious construction project to get under way was the creation of an underground passageway designed to link all major defense installations on the island.
As projected, this passageway was to have attained a total length of almost 17 miles (27 km). Had it been completed, it would have linked the formidable underground installations in the northern portion of Iwo Jima with the southern part of the island, where the northern slope of Mount Suribachi alone harbored several thousand yards of tunnels.
By the time the Marines landed on Iwo Jima, more than 11 miles (18 km)
of tunnels had been completed.
A supreme effort was required of the Japanese personnel engaged in the underground construction work.
Aside from the heavy physical labor, the men were exposed to heat from
30–50 °C (90–130 °F), as well as sulphur fumes that forced them to wear gas masks.
In numerous instances a work detail had to be relieved after only five minutes.
When renewed American air attacks struck the island on 8 December 1944 and thereafter became a daily occurrence until the actual invasion of the island, a large number of men had to be diverted to repairing the damaged airfields.
While Iwo Jima was being converted into a major fortress with all possible speed, General Kuribayashi formulated his final plans for the defense of the island.
This plan, which constituted a radical departure from the defensive tactics used by the Japanese earlier in the war, provided for the following major points:
In order to prevent disclosing their positions to the Americans,
Japanese artillery was to remain silent during the expected prelanding bombardment.
No fire would be directed against the American naval vessels.
Upon landing on Iwo Jima, the Americans were not to encounter any opposition on the beaches.
Once the Americans had advanced about 500 m inland, they were to be taken under the concentrated fire of automatic weapons stationed in the vicinity of Motoyama airfield to the north, as well as automatic weapons and artillery emplaced both on the high ground to the north of the landing beaches and Mount Suribachi to the south.
After inflicting maximum possible casualties and damage on the landing force, the artillery was to displace northward from the high ground near the Chidori airfield.
In this connection, Kuribayashi stressed once again that he planned to conduct an elastic defense designed to wear down the invasion force.
Such prolonged resistance naturally required the defending force to stockpile rations and ammunition. To this end the island commander accumulated a food reserve to last for two and a half months, ever mindful of the fact that the trickle of supplies that was reaching Iwo Jima during the latter part of 1944 would cease altogether once the island was surrounded by a hostile naval force.
During the final months of preparing Iwo Jima for the defense,
General Kuribayashi saw to it that the strenuous work of building fortifications did not interfere with the training of units.
As an initial step towards obtaining more time for training, he ordered work on the northernmost airfield on the island halted.
In an operations order issued in early December, the island commander set 11 February 1945 as the target date for completion of defensive preparations and specified that personnel were to spend 70% of their time in training and 30% in construction work.
Despite intermittent harassment by American submarines and aircraft, additional personnel continued to arrive on Iwo until February 1945.
By that time General Kuribayashi had under his command a force totalling between 21,000 and 23,000 men, including both Army and Navy units.
Lines of defense
General Kuribayashi made several changes in his basic defense plan in the months preceding the American invasion of Iwo Jima.
The final stratagem, which became effective in January 1945, called for the creation of strong, mutually supporting positions which were to be defended to the death.
Neither large scale counterattacks, withdrawals, nor banzai charges were contemplated.
The southern portion of Iwo in the proximity of Mount Suribachi was organized into a semi-independent defense sector.
Fortifications included casemated coast artillery and automatic weapons in mutually supporting pillboxes.
The narrow isthmus to the north of Suribachi was to be defended by a
small infantry force.
On the other hand this entire area was exposed to the fire of artillery,
rocket launchers, and mortars emplaced on Suribachi to the south and the high ground to the north.
A main line of defense, consisting of mutually supporting positions in depth, extended from the northwestern part of the island to the southeast, along a general line from the cliffs to the northwest, across Motoyama Airfield No. 2 to Minami village.
From there it continued eastward to the shoreline just south of
The entire line of defense was dotted with pillboxes, bunkers, and blockhouses.
Colonel Nishi's immobilized tanks, carefully dug in and camouflaged, further reinforced this fortified area, whose strength was supplemented by the broken terrain.
A second line of defense extended from a few hundred yards
south of Kitano Point at the very northern tip of Iwo across the
still uncompleted Airfield No. 3, to Motoyama village,
and then to the area between Tachiiwa Point and the East Boat Basin.
This second line contained fewer man-made fortifications, but the
Japanese took maximum advantage of
natural caves and other terrain features.
As an additional means of protecting the two completed airfields on Iwo from direct assault, the Japanese constructed a number of antitank ditches near the fields and mined all natural routes of approach.
When, on 2 January, more than a dozen B-24 Liberator bombers raided Airfield No. 1 and inflicted heavy damage, Kuribayashi diverted more than
600 men, 11 trucks, and 2 bulldozers for immediate repairs.
As a result, the airfield again became operational after only 12 hours.
Eventually, 2,000 men were assigned the job of filling the bomb craters with as many as 50 men detailed to each bomb crater.
The end of 1944 saw American B-24 bombers over Iwo Jima almost every night while U.S. Navy carriers and cruisers frequently sortied into the Ogasawaras.
On 8 December 1944, American aircraft dropped more than
800 tons of bombs on Iwo Jima, which shook the Japanese up but did very little real damage to the island defenses.
Even though frequent air raids interfered with the Japanese defensive preparations and robbed the garrison of much badly needed sleep,
progress of the work was not materially slowed.
As early as 5 January 1945, Admiral Ichimaru conducted a briefing of
naval personnel at his command post in which he informed them of the destruction of the Japanese Fleet at the Battle of Leyte Gulf,
the loss of the Philippines, and the expectation that Iwo would shortly
Exactly one month later, Japanese radio operators on Iwo reported to the island commander that code signals of American aircraft had undergone an ominous change.
On 13 February, a Japanese naval patrol plane spotted 170 American ships moving northwestward from Saipan.
All Japanese troops in the Ogasawaras were alerted and occupied their battle positions.
On Iwo Jima, preparations for the pending battle had been completed, and the defenders were ready.
On 7 October 1944 Admiral Chester Nimitz and his staff issued a staff study for preliminary planning, which clearly listed the objectives of
The overriding purpose of the operation was to maintain unremitting military pressure against Japan and to extend American control over the
In American hands, Iwo Jima could be turned into a base from which to attack the Japanese home islands, protect bases in the Marianas, cover
naval forces, conduct search operations of the approaches to the
Japanese home islands, and provide fighter escort for
very long-range operations.
Three tasks specifically envisioned in the study were the reduction of
enemy naval and air strength and industrial facilities in the home islands;
the destruction of Japanese naval and air strength in the Bonin Islands,
and the capture, occupation, and subsequent defense of Iwo Jima,
which was to be developed into an air base.
On 9 October, General Holland Smith USMC received the staff study, accompanied by a directive from Admiral Nimitz ordering the seizure of
This directive designated specific commanders for the operation.
Admiral Raymond A. Spruance USN, Commander, Fifth Fleet,
was placed in charge as Operation Commander,
Task Force 50.
Under Spruance, Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner USN,
Commander, Amphibious Forces, Pacific, was to command the
Joint Expeditionary Force, Task Force 51.
Second in command of the Joint Expeditionary Force was
Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill USN.
General Holland Smith USMC was designated
Commanding General, Expeditionary Troops, Task Force 56.
It was not accidental that these men were selected to command an operation of such vital importance that it has since become known as
"the most classical amphibious assault of recorded history."
All of them had shown their mettle in previous engagements.
One chronicler of the Iwo Jima operation put it in the following words:
"The team assigned to Iwo Jima was superb the very men who had perfected the amphibious techniques from the Battle of Guadalcanal to the
Battle of Guam.
Nearly every problem, it was believed, had been met and mastered along the way, from the jungles of Guadalcanal up through the Solomons,
and across the Central Pacific from the bloody reefs of Battle of Tarawa
to the mountains of the Marianas."
The U.S. V Amphibious Corps scheme of maneuver for the landings
was relatively simple.
The 4th and 5th Marine Divisions were to land abreast on the
eastern beaches, the 4th on the right and the 5th on the left.
When released to VAC, the 3rd Marine Division, as
Expeditionary Troops Reserve, was to land over the same beaches to take part in the attack or play a defensive role, whichever was called for.
The plan called for a rapid exploitation of the beachhead with an advance in a northeasterly direction to capture the entire island.
A regiment of the 5th Marine Division was designated to capture
Mount Suribachi in the south.
The detailed scheme of maneuver for the landings provided for the
28th Marine Regiment of the 5th Marine Division, commanded by
Colonel Harry B. Liversedge USMC , to land on the extreme left of the
corps on Green 1.
On the right of the 28th Marines, the 27th Marine Regiment, under
Colonel Thomas A. Wornham USMC, was to attack towards the west coast of the island, then wheel northeastward and seize the O-1 Line.
Action by the 27th and 28th Marines was designed to drive the enemy from the commanding heights along the southern portion of Iwo,
simultaneously securing the flanks and rear of VAC.
As far as the 4th Marine Division was concerned, the 23rd Marine Regiment, commanded by Colonel Walter W. Wensinger USMC, was to go
ashore on Yellow 1 and 2 beaches, seize Motoyama Airfield No. 1, then
turn to the northeast and seize that part of Motoyama Airfield No. 2
and the O-1 Line within its zone of action.
After landing on Blue Beach 1, the 25th Marine Regiment, under
Colonel John R. Lanigan USMC, was to assist in the capture of
Airfield No. 1, the capture of Blue Beach 2, and the O-1 Line within its
zone of action.
The 24th Marine Regiment, under Colonel Walter I. Jordan USMC,
was to be held in 4th Marine Division reserve during the initial landings.
The U.S. 26th Marine Regiment, led by Colonel Chester B. Graham USMC, was to be released from corps reserve on D-Day and prepared to support
the 5th Marine Division.
Division artillery was to go ashore on order from the respective division commanders.
The 4th Marine Division was to be supported by the 14th Marine Regiment, commanded by Colonel Louis G. DeHaven USMC ;
Colonel James D. Wailer USMC 's 13th Marine Regiment was to furnish
similar support for the 5th Marine Division.
The operation was to be so timed that at H-Hour 68 Landing Vehicle Tracked, comprising the first wave, were to hit the beach.
These vehicles were to advance inland until they reached the first terrace beyond the high-water mark.
The armored amphibians would use their 75 mm howitzers and
machine guns to the utmost in an attempt to keep the enemy down,
thus giving some measure of protection to succeeding waves of
Marines who were most vulnerable to enemy fire at the time they
debarked from their LVTs.
Though early versions of the VAC operations plan had called for tanks of the 4th and 5th Tank Battalions to be landed at H plus 30,
subsequent studies of the beaches made it necessary to adopt a
more flexible schedule.
The possibility of congestion at the water's edge also contributed to this change in plans.
In the end, the time for bringing the tanks ashore was left to the discretion of the regimental commanders.
Since there was a possibility of unfavorable surf conditions along the
eastern beaches, VAC issued an alternate plan on 8 January 1945,
which provided for a landing on the western beaches.
However, since predominant northerly or northwesterly winds caused hazardous swells almost continuously along the southwest side of the island, it appeared unlikely that this alternate plan would be put into execution.
The Allies wanted Iwo Jima not only to neutralize threats to its bombers and shipping, but to use its airfields for fighter escort and
emergency bomber landings.
On February 16, 1945, they commenced a massive three-day air and
naval bombardment of the island.
At 02:00 on February 19, battleship guns signaled the commencement of
Soon 100 bombers attacked the island, followed by another volley from the naval guns.
At 08:30, the first of an eventual 30,000 Marines of the 3rd, 4th, and
5th Marine Divisions, under V Amphibious Corps, landed on the
Japanese island of Iwo Jima and a battle for the island commenced.
The Marines faced heavy fire from Mount Suribachi at the south of the island, and fought over inhospitable terrain:
rough volcanic ash which allowed neither secure footing or the digging of foxholes.
Nevertheless, by that evening the mountain had been surrounded and
30,000 Marines had landed.
About 40,000 more would follow.
The climb up Suribachi was fought by the yard.
Gunfire was ineffective against the Japanese, but flame throwers and grenades cleared the bunkers.
Finally, on February 23, the summit was reached.
Although a smaller US Flag had been planted, it was later taken down
so that a larger flag could be raised for ceremonial purposes.
It was there when Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal took
the famous photograph
"Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima"
of the United States flag being planted on the mountain's summit.
Final days of the Battle
With the landing area secure, more troops and heavy equipment came ashore and the invasion proceeded north to capture the airfields and the remainder of the island.
Most Japanese soldiers fought to the death.
On the night of 25 March, a 300-man Japanese force launched a vicious
final counterattack in the vicinity of Airfield Number 2.
Army pilots, Seabees and Marines of the 5th Pioneer Battalion
and 28th Marines fought the fanatical Japanese force till morning but
suffered heavy casualties
-- more than 100 killed and another 200 American wounded.
Nearly all of the Japanese force was killed in the battle.
Of over 21,700 defenders, just over 200 were taken prisoner
(less than one percent).
The Allied forces suffered 26,000 casualties, with nearly 7,000 dead.
Over a quarter of the Medals of Honor awarded to Marines in World War II were given for conduct in the invasion of Iwo Jima
— 27 in total, the most ever given in a single battle to date.
However, the usefulness of the island as an airbase was justified even
before the battle was concluded.
This happened when the B-29 bomber 'Dinah Might' reported it was
low on fuel near the island and requested an emergency landing.
Despite enemy fire, the airplane landed on the Allied-controlled section
of the island, without incident, and was serviced, refueled and departed.
The island of Iwo Jima was declared "secure" on March 26, 1945.
"Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue" — Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
The United States Navy has commissioned several ships of the name
USS Iwo Jima.
The USMC War Memorial outside Washington, D.C. memorializes all
U. S. Marines with a statue of the famous picture.
Flags of Our Fathers and Red Sun, Black Sand:
two films directed by Clint Eastwood,
one from the American perspective from the book
by James Bradley and Ron Powers, and the other from the
Both films are to be released simultaneously in the fall of 2006.
(A tentative title for Red Sun, Black Sand was "Lamps Before the Wind," taken from a line in a letter from Tadamichi Kuribayashi to his son, Taro:
"The life of your father is just like a lamp before the wind."
(James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers, page 148))
To the Shores of Iwo Jima, a 1945 American documentary
produced by the United States Navy, Marine Corps and the Coast Guard.
Sands of Iwo Jima, a 1949 American film starring John Wayne.
Uncommon Valor, Common Virtue:
Iwo Jima and the Photograph that Captured America,
New Yorkenguin Group, 2006. (ISBN 0-425-20980-6)