Iwo Jima, Japan (1945 AD)
The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the few engagements of World War II, along with the subsequent Battle of Okinawa, which took place on Japanese soil. Although the smaller of the battles, Iwo Jima became the more famous of the two thanks to the enduring legacy of the famous film footage of American marines raising the United States flag over Mount Suribachi at a climactic moment of the battle. Defending their home territory for the first time, the Japanese proved to be a ferocious foe, taking nearly 100% casualties with virtually none surrendering. The battle was also famously captured in two films, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, which depicted the engagement as viewed from both sides. The island is now covered with monuments which suggest the scope and ferocity of the battle.
By early 1945, the Japanes Empire was crumbling, and the American armed forces began planning for a direct invasion of the home islands, something that had not been attempted since the Mongols in the 13th century. As the route of supply and communication lay across the Pacific, the establishment of island bases close to Japan became a prerequisite of invasion. The first island to be targeted was Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima, to the south of Japan, had excellent access by sea to Hawaii and Australia. From there a small chain of islands pointed northward like a dagger straight towards Tokyo. The Japanese realized both the strategic and symbolic importance of Iwo Jima, and built it up into one of the most heavily fortified islands in the empire. Because of this, and because the Japanese were defending their home territory for the first time, the fighting on Iwo Jima was some of the fiercest during the war.
Beginning in June 1944, the American navy attempted to soften up the island with regular bombardments that lasted for eight months. The landing of troops, a force consisting of tens of thousands of marines, did not actually begin until February 19, 1945. The casualties in the initial assault were very heavy as Americans bore withering fire from both machine gun nests and artillery positions on Mount Suribachi. It took the marines four days to secure the mountain, over which the American flag was famously raised on February 23.
The rest of the battle was actually the long, laborious procees of rooting out the Japanese defenders hidden away in labyrinths of bunkers and tunnels that riddled the island. It took a full month to fully secure the island, largely with the help of flame throwers, grenades and hand-to-hand combat. The Americans took nearly 35% casualties, while almost all 22,000 Japanese soldiers were killed to a man (although more Japanese were killed, total American casualties were higher). This offered a grim glimpse of what an actual invasion of Japan would have been like.
Iwo Jima is less than eight square miles in area, and virtually the entire island is a shrine to the battle. It is primarily used for military purposes jointly by the United States and Japan. However, memorials of the battle abound, with markers noting many of the battle sites. Some of the bunkers and tunnels have been preserved. By far the island’s most popular site related to the battle is the Memorial on Mount Suribachi where the American flag was raised.
Iwo Jima is located in the Volcano Island atoll, approximately 750 miles south of Tokyo. Mount Suribachi is an extinct volcano at the southwest corner of the island. The main memorial of the battle is located on top. All battle-related sites are open except for the tunnels, although the island is extremely difficult to reach and access is limited. Web: www.jnto.go.jp (official tourism website of Japan).