The significance of the island of Iwo Jima was its location in relation to
Japan. For Japan, this was basically their home front. Being only 750 miles away from Japan, it was vital for them not to lose their ground. For the U.S., this was the last obstacle to clear before they could hit Japan in their own territory. The Japanese dug in deep (both figuratively and literally) to face the oncoming 70,000 American troops. Since there was only 22,000 Japanese troops, they used every tactic available to fend off as many Americans as possible. The Japanese strategy was all about location and placement. They positioned hidden machine gun nests all over the island, dug into caves, and placed many forms of booby traps all around the island. To weaken the morale of the troops, Japanese soldiers poisoned all of the natural water holes on the island along with all of the coconuts.
When the first American troops charged into Iwo Jima, it was a
death trap. Out of the 3,400 troops who initially took the beach, only approximately 600 survived. The Japanese were so familiar with this island, it seemed as though they were rooted into it. Between the caves and tunnels they dug, the Japanese on the island specialized in flanking and other forms of ambush. Former marine and Captain Thomas M. Fields said,
“At great cost, you’d take a hill to find then the same enemy suddenly on your flank or rear. The Japanese were not on Iwo Jima. They were in it! I’d known combat in the Solomons with its sly ambushes and jungle firefights, but Iwo was another kind of war.”
During the night, it was next to impossible to spot tunnels or caves that Japanese were holding out in. Only during the day were the U.S. marines able to combat soldiers in these dug in defenses. A common way of driving Japanese soldiers out of their tunnels was to send a soldier equipped with a flamethrower to the entrance. The soldier would then shoot the flamethrower into the tunnel, not to burn the Japanese, but to suck out all of the oxygen. Many Japanese soldiers asphyxiated in the tunnels in this manner.
The grueling battle took just under two months to end. At the end, an estimated 26, 000 Americans had died and the 22,000 Japanese had died as well. This is the only battle that the U.S.’s death toll exceeded the Japanese. After victory was achieved on Iwo Jima, the American flag was raised. The snapshot of the four U.S. marines raising the flag is still just as powerful as it was the day it was taken.