The Black Sands of Iwo Jima

"Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valour was a common virtue"

—Admiral Chester W. Nimitz


On this day in 1945 (19th February) the U.S Marines raise Stars and Stripe of the US flag at Mt Suribachi on the Pacific Island of Iwo Jima.

The Stars and Stripes above Iwo Jima 1945
Photo 26-G-4140, U.S. Department of Transportation. U.S. Coast Guard. Office of Public and International Affairs

“Operation Detachment’s” aim was to capture the entire island and the three crucial airfields. This operation was vital in ensuring the U.S had tactical capability to strike the Japanese mainland with their B-29 bombers. 23,000 Japanese were dug in to the volcanic rock like a tic with a complex network of tunnels, dugouts and caves making the already fierce defenders a nightmare to evict.


Before the landings the island was heavily bombarded from sea, air superiority ensured 7,000 tonnes of explosive was dropped to provide support to the invasion. Once on the beaches the volcanic ash made it impossible for effective foxholes (dugouts) to be made for protection turning the beach into a hellish and brutal place to be.


Photo of Iwo Jima from the air
Photo of Iwo Jima from the air by U.S Navy from USS Makin Island.

During the taking of Iwo Jima those on both sides experienced some of the most bloody fighting in the whole of the war. U.S soldiers who managed to secure objectives would be subject to huge banzai charges under the cover of night, whilst the Japanese in strongly held positions were flushed out through the use of grenades and flamethrowers in the hot sun.


By the end of the battle most of the Japanese garrison would be killed with only 216 surrendering (2 more would surrender on 6th January 1949) along with 6,800 Allies killed in action.

'American supplies being landed at Iwo Jima' PhoM2c. Paul Queenan, USCG
'American supplies being landed at Iwo Jima' PhoM2c. Paul Queenan, USCG

'Iwo Jima amtracs' National Archives. PhoM3c. Robert M. Warren, USN.
'Iwo Jima amtracs' National Archives. PhoM3c. Robert M. Warren, USN.

'Private First Class Wilfred Voegeli armed with a flame thrower, halts to light up his pipe on Iwo Jima' hotographed by Campbell, February 24, 1945. U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, collections of the National Archives.127-GW-320-111147
'Private First Class Wilfred Voegeli armed with a flame thrower, halts to light up his pipe on Iwo Jima' hotographed by Campbell, February 24, 1945. U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, collections of the National Archives.127-GW-320-111147