Iwo Jima is an island of the Japanese Volcano Islands chain south of the Ogasawara Islands and together with them form the Ogasawara Archipelago also known as the Bonin Islands. The island of 21 km is 650 nautical miles (750 mi; 1,200 km) south of mainland Tokyo and is administered as part of Ogasawara, one of the eight villages of Tokyo (though it is uninhabited). It is famous as the setting of the February 1945–March 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima between the United States and the Empire of Japan during World War II. The island grew in recognition in the west when the iconic photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima was taken on Mount Suribachi, the highest point at 160 m, during the battle by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. The US occupied Iwo Jima until 1968 when it was returned to Japan.
It was discovered by Spanish sailor Bernardo de la Torre who named it Sufre Island, after the old Spanish term for sulphur. In 1779, the island was charted as Sulphur Island, the literal translation of its official name, during Captain James Cook’s third surveying voyage.
The island has an approximate area of 21 km2 (8 sq mi). The most prominent feature is Mount Suribachi on the southern tip, a vent that is thought to be dormant and is 161 m (528 ft) high. Named after a Japanese grinding bowl, the summit of Mount Suribachi is the highest point on the island. Iwo Jima is unusually flat and featureless for a volcanic island. Suribachi is the only obvious volcanic feature, as it is only the resurgent dome (raised centre) of a larger submerged volcanic caldera. Captain Cook’s surveying crew in 1776 to 1779 landed on a beach which is now 40 m (131 ft) above sea level due to volcanic uplifting. Such uplifting occurs on the island at a varying rate of between 100 and 800 mm (3.9 and 31 in) per year, with an average rate of 200 mm (8 in) per year. Forty-three nautical miles (50 mi, 80 km) north of the island is North Iwo Jima (北硫黄島, Kita-Iō-tō?, literally: “North Sulfur Island”) and 32 nautical miles (37 mi; 59 km) south lies South Iwo Jima (南硫黄島, Minami-Iō-tō?, “South Sulfur Island”), with the three islands making up the Volcano Islands group of the Ogasawara Islands. Just south of Minami-Iō-jima are the Mariana Islands. Iwo Jima has a history of minor volcanic activity a few times per year (fumaroles, and their resultant discolored patches of seawater nearby), but so far no sign of a big eruption coming. The latest activity was in May 2012 (fumaroles and discolored patches of seawater).
Pre-1945It was discovered in October 1543 by Spanish sailor Bernardo de la Torre on board of carrack San Juan de Letrán when trying to return from Sarangani to New Spain. Before World War II Iwo Jima was administered as Iōjima village and was (as it is today) part of Tokyo. A census in June 1943 reported an island civilian population of 1018 (533 males, 485 females) in 192 households in six settlements. The island had a primary school, a Shinto shrine, and a single police officer; it was serviced by a mail ship from Haha-jima once a month, as well as a Nippon Yusen ship once every couple of months. The island’s economy relied upon sulfur mining, sugarcane farming, and fishing; an isolated island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with poor economic prospect, Iwo Jima had to import all rice and consumer goods from the Home Islands.Even before the beginning of World War II, there was a garrison of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the southern part of Iwo Jima. It was off-limits to the island’s civilian population, who already had little contact with the naval personnel, except for trade purposes.Throughout 1944, Japan conducted a massive military buildup on Iwo Jima in anticipation of a US invasion. In July 1944, the island’s civilian population was forcibly evacuated, and no civilians have permanently settled on the island since.The Battle of Iwo JimaMain article: Battle of Iwo JimaThe invasion of Iwo Jima began on February 19, 1945, and continued to March 26, 1945. The battle was a major initiative of the Pacific Campaign of World War II. The Marine invasion, known as Operation Detachment, was charged with the mission of capturing the airfields on the island which up until that time had harried US bombing missions to Tokyo. Once the bases were secured, they could then be of use in the impending invasion of the Japanese mainland.
The battle was marked by some of the fiercest fighting of the War. The Imperial Japanese Army positions on the island were heavily fortified, with vast bunkers, hidden artillery, and 18 kilometres (11 mi) of tunnels .The battle was the first US attack on the Japanese Home Islands and the Imperial soldiers defended their positions tenaciously. Of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers present at the beginning of the battle, over 19,000 were killed and only 1,083 taken prisoner. One of the first objectives after landing on the beachhead was the taking of Mount Suribachi. At the second raising of a flag on the peak, Joe Rosenthal photographed six Marines: Ira Hayes, Mike Strank, Rene Gagnon, Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, and US Navy corpsman John Bradley raising the United States flag on the fourth day of the battle (February 23). The photograph was extremely popular, being reprinted in thousands of publications. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography that same year, and ultimately came to be regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images of the war, and possibly the most reproduced photograph of all time. Within the next month of fighting, three of the Marines raising the flag were killed: Strank, Block and Sousley. Contrary to popular belief, the famous picture of the six men raising the flag was not the first flag raising on the Island. Another smaller flag had been raised a few hours earlier by five other Marines who were the first to the top of Suribachi. The second flag was raised by these six after the Secretary of the Navy asked for the original flag that had been raised.After the fall of Mt. Suribachi in the south, the Japanese still held a strong position throughout the island. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi still had the equivalent of eight infantry battalions, a tank regiment, two artillery, and three heavy mortar battalions, plus the 5,000 gunners and naval infantry. 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 March 25, a 300-man Japanese force launched a final counterattack led by Kuribayashi. He was killed in the battle and his body hidden, his ivory handled pistol was captured by one Marine. The Marines suffered heavy casualties; more than 50 were killed and another 119 Americans were wounded. The island was officially declared “secured” the following morning.According to the US Navy, “The 36-day (Iwo Jima) assault resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead.” To put that into context, the 82-day Battle of Okinawa lasted from early April until mid-June 1945 and US (five Army and two Marine Corps Divisions) casualties were over 62,000 of whom over 12,000 were killed or missing, while the Battle of the Bulge lasted 40 days (16 Dec 44 – 25 Jan 45) with almost 90,000 US casualties consisting of 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded, and 23,000 captured or missing.After Iwo Jima was declared secured, about three thousand Japanese soldiers were left alive in the island’s warren of caves and tunnels. Those who could not bring themselves to commit suicide hid in the caves during the day and came out at night to prowl for provisions. Some did eventually surrender and were surprised that the Americans often received them with compassion—offering them water, cigarettes, or coffee. The last of these stragglers, two of Lieutenant Toshihiko Ohno’s men (Ohno’s body was never found), Yamakage Kufuku and Matsudo Linsoki, lasted 3 and half years, surrendering on January 6, 1949). The US military occupied Iwo Jima until 1968, when it was returned to Japan.