Archive for March 26th, 2008

Today’s History Lesson marks an ending.  The Battle of Iwo Jima, begun on February 19, 1945, had been fought with tenacity and brutality.  Three U.S. Marine Divisions had slogged it out against more than 20,000 Japanese soldiers for more than a month.  The prize?  Three airfields and less than ten square miles of property.

But almost all the fighting on the tiny island had ceased.  In the early morning hours of March 26, a group of several hundred Japanese soldiers, mostly remaining officers, infiltrated some small tent camps (housing Army Air Force officers and Seabees) not far from the northernmost airfield.  They succeeded in killing quite a few soldiers before the alarm was raised, but things were well in hand in short order.  Nearly all the Japanese had been killed at the cost of fifty American lives and about one hundred wounded.  And that skirmish was, for all intents and purposes, the end of organized combat on the island.  Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the Japanese commander, had committed ritual suicide three days earlier.

The Americans had now secured the air bases they so desperately needed, and bombers could be escorted and protected all the way to mainland Japan.  But the cost had been incredibly high.  More that 6,800 Marines had been killed, with another 22,000 suffering injury or combat fatigue.  Twenty-seven Congressional Medals of Honor were given in this campaign, a staggering total considering the number of soldiers participating.  Japanese losses were about 20,000 killed.  The number of prisoners varies from a few hundred to more than a thousand, but regardless, it was a fairly high number relative to the other major island campaigns in the Pacific.

Recommended Reading: Iwo Jima: Portrait of a Battle: United States Marines at War in the Pacific – I’ve already recommended Richard Wheeler’s Iwo as a great read, but Hammel’s work allows you to see it in pictures. I do not have this book myself, but I recommend it on the strength of his astounding Guadalcanal trilogy (which will be heavily endorsed in the future).

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