Iwo Jima Operation, February - March 1945
Overview and Special Image Selection



On 19 February 1945 U.S. Marines stormed ashore on Iwo Jima, a small volcanic island half way between the Mariana Islands and Japan. These landings opened more than a month of extremely bloody ground fighting between three Marine divisions and more than 20,000 Japanese defenders. By late March 1945, when the Marines were relieved by a U.S. Army garrison, over six thousand Americans had been killed, along with about ninety percent of the Japanese. However, by then the island was already a refuge for U.S. bombers, with more facilities being actively developed.

The mid-1944 conquest of the Marianas, providing base sites for a strategic bombing campaign against the Japanese home islands, made Iwo Jima an invasion target. The attack decision was formalized early in October 1944, by which time the U.S. Army Air Force was frequently bombing the island. These raids, supplemented by periodic warship gunfire attacks, became daily occurances later in the year, after the B-29 bombers began hitting Japan and Iwo Jima had been used to stage several destructive air raids against the B-29s' own bases. The Japanese, clearly understanding the importance of the place, had been fortifying it since March 1944. After the Marianas fell, they greatly expanded this work, which was not seriously hindered by the air and sea bombardment. By early 1945, it was obvious that capturing Iwo Jima, though essential, would be very costly.

The Iwo Jima invasion began on 16 February 1945, when a formidible U.S. Navy armada started three days of pre-landing preparations. As minesweepers and underwater demolition teams cleared the nearby waters, warships and aircraft methodically tried to destroy the island's defenses. However, given the abundance of well-concealed strongpoints and deeply buried underground facilities, this was not nearly enough. Thus, when the Marines landed, they confronted intense opposing fire from the landing area and from flanking positions on Mount Suribachi in the south and the rugged terrain of northern Iwo Jima. Securing Mount Suribachi and the rest of southern Iwo Jima required more than four days of intense combat. Another week's bloodshed brought the Marines into the middle of the desperately defended north, where the bitter fight to eliminate organized Japanese resistance took nearly four additional weeks.

For the U.S. Marines, Iwo Jima was the most difficult of World War II's many tough fights. It remains an enduring demonstration of the essential role of infantry when ground must be captured, even when seemingly overwhelming air and sea power is present. The abundant heroism of the attackers was recognized by the award of no fewer than twenty-seven Medals of Honor, more than half given posthumously. In American hands, Iwo Jima soon became an important base for the air campaign that ended with Japan's August 1945 capitulation, thus justifying the blood spilled to take it. Had the war continued, its role would have been even more critical.

This page features a historical overview and a selection of images on the Iwo Jima operation of February - March 1945.

For more pictorial coverage, see:

Additional information on the Iwo Jima Operation, see Navy Department Library entry, Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945.



Click photograph for larger image.

Photo #: 80-G-310939

Iwo Jima Operation, 1945


Iwo Jima during the pre-invasion bombardment, 17 February 1945, looking north with Mount Suribachi in the foreground.
Photographed from an airplane based on USS Makin Island (CVE-93).

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Online Image: 62KB; 740 x 600 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: 80-G-335103

USS Bismarck Sea
(CVE-95)

Large explosion on board the ship, after she was hit by a Kamikaze during the night of 21-22 February 1945, while she was taking part in the Iwo Jima operation. She sank as a result of her damage.
Photographed from USS Saginaw Bay (CVE-82).

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Online Image: 39KB; 740 x 615 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: 80-G-308952

USS New York (BB-34)


Bombarding Japanese defenses on Iwo Jima, 16 February 1945.
She has just fired the left-hand 14"/45 gun of Number Four turret. View looks aft, on the starboard side.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Online Image: 63KB; 740 x 605 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: NH 104311-KN (color)

Iwo Jima Operation, 1945

Amphibious tractors (LVT) underway off Iwo Jima during the landings there, circa 19 February 1945. The island is in the distance, shrouded in smoke, with Mount Suribachi at the extreme left.
Original 35mm Kodachrome transparency, photographed by Lieutenant Howard W. Whalen, USNR, Boat Group Commander, USS Sanborn (APA-193).

Collection of Lieutenant Commander Howard W. Whalen, USNR. Donated by Mrs. Nadine Whalen, 1997.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 67KB; 740 x 535 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 104317-KN (color)

Iwo Jima Operation, 1945

Amphibious tractors (LVT) head for landing beaches on Iwo Jima, circa 19 February 1945. Note explosions, with much smoke and dust, ashore. Mount Suribachi is at left.
Original 35mm Kodachrome transparency, photographed by Lieutenant Howard W. Whalen, USNR, Boat Group Commander, USS Sanborn (APA-193).

Collection of Lieutenant Commander Howard W. Whalen, USNR. Donated by Mrs. Nadine Whalen, 1997.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 56KB; 740 x 535 pixels

 
Photo #: 80-G-415308 (cropped)

Iwo Jima Operation, 1945

"H-Hour" on "D-Day": Waves of amphibious tractors (LVTs) approach the Iwo Jima invasion beaches in the first moments of the U.S. Marine amphibious assault on the island, 19 February 1945.
Mount Suribachi is in the left center background.
This image is cropped from Photo # 80-G-415308. Taken from an airplane flying over the invasion area, it was flown to Guam, transmitted by radio, and printed in an American newspaper within fifteen hours after it was made.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Online Image: 51KB; 740 x 630 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: USMC 110109

Iwo Jima Operation, 1945


Fourth Division Marines begin an attack from the beach on Iwo Jima, as another boatload of men is disgorged onto the beach by an LCVP, 19 February 1945.
Note the amphibious tractor (LVT) burning in the right center, and men taking cover ashore.
Photographed by T/Sgt. Neil Gillespie, USMCR.

U.S. Marine Corps Photograph.

Online Image: 60KB; 740 x 610 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 104150

Iwo Jima Operation, 1945


"The First Flag Raising on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima", 23 February 1945
Marines of the 28th Regiment, Fifth Marine Division, hoist the U.S. flag on a piece of pipe, at about 1020 Hrs. on 23 February 1945, after they had captured the summit of Mount Suribachi. This was some seventeen minutes before the famous flag-raising immortalized by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.
Holding the flagpole are Sergeant H.O. Hansen, Platoon Sergeant E.I. Thomas, and First Lieutenant H.G. Schrier. In the foreground Private First Class J.R. Michaels stands guard with an M-1 Carbine. Corporal C.W. Lindberg is behind him. (details from Morison: Vol. XIV, frontispiece and page 61).
Taken by Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery, USMC, staff photographer for "Leatherneck" magazine.

The original photograph came from the illustrations package for Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison's "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II", volume XIV: "Victory in the Pacific" (frontispiece).

Official U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center.

Online Image: 77KB; 600 x 765 pixels

 
Photo #: SC 204800

Iwo Jima Operation, 1945


Three Japanese soldiers, persuaded by a compatriot and American bullets, emerge from their hiding place to surrender. Taken on 5 April 1945, during "mopping up" operations by U.S. Army occupation forces on Iwo Jima.

Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Online Image: 105KB; 740 x 640 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: 80-G-435702

Iwo Jima Operation, 1945


U.S. Navy doctors and corpsmen administer to wounded Marines at an Iwo Jima first aid station, 20 February 1945.
Navy Chaplain Lieutenant (Junior Grade) John H. Galbreath (right center) is kneeling beside a man who has severe flash burns, received in an artillery battery fifty yards or so away.
Photographed by Warrant Officer Obie Newcomb, Jr., USMCR.

Official U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, now in the National Archives' U.S. Navy photographic collection.

Online Image: 99KB; 740 x 605 pixels

Reproductions of this image may also be available through the National Archives photographic reproduction system.

 
Photo #: 80-G-412517

Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands


Fourth Marine Division cemetary on Iwo Jima, March 1945.
Note DUKW and other trucks passing by in the background, with wrecked Japanese airplanes beyond.
Photographed by a member of the Steichen unit.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Online Image: 106KB; 740 x 530 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: SC 206875

Boeing B-29 "Superfortress" bomber

(USAAF serial # 44-69703)

After crash-landing on Motoyama Airfield, Iwo Jima. It had encountered trouble on a mission over Tokyo, 10 March 1945.
This B-29 is from the 497th Bomb Group.
Note holes in the ground, apparently in the roof of an underground structure. A P-51 "Mustang" fighter is taxiing by in the background.

Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Online Image: 70KB; 740 x 605 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 
Photo #: 80-G-346162

Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands


Aerial view looking southward over the island's South Airfield (formerly Japanese Airfield # 1), with Mount Suribachi in the distance, 26 May 1945.
Several B-29 "Superfortress" bombers are on the field, including two wrecks in the left foreground.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Online Image: 94KB; 740 x 610 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

 


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