26 Photographs of the Heroes of Iwo Jima, Where Uncommon Valor Was a Common Virtue


The Battle of Iwo Jima was a major conflict, beginning February 19, 1945, in which the United States Marine Corps landed on and captured the island of Iwo Jima from the Imperial Japanese Army during the second World War. The invasion, named Operation Detachment, was purposed to capture the island and the three Japanese airfields to provide an operational base to attack the main islands.

The Imperial Japanese Army positions on Iwo Jima were heavily fortified, with a network of bunkers, hidden artillery posts, and more than 10 miles of underground tunnels. The American ground invasion was supported by extensive naval artillery and had complete air supremacy.

Upon landing on the beaches, the Marines found 15-foot-high slopes of soft black volcanic ash. The bad conditions prevented agile movement, the ability to dig foxholes, and the utilization of most heavily armored vehicles. Through a day of struggle, the Marines were able to get a footing on the island. In the subsequent days, the Americans expected the Japanese to attack in large rushing waves during the nights, a strategy they had previously implemented. Japanese General Kuribayashi forbade these Banzai attacks because had proved unsuccessful.

The Japanese withdrew into their tunnels for ambush. At night, Japanese soldiers would sneak out and attack Marines in their foxholes. Japanese soldiers who spoke English would also pretend to be wounded Americans and call for help, only to kill their attempted rescuers.

The Marines successfully captured Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945. The Marines learned that firearms were ineffective in clearing the tunnel systems and started using flame throwers. For the remainder of the 36 day assault, the Japanese held out in the tunnel systems for as long as they could. They eventually they ran out of food, water, and supplies.  With defeat imminent, the Japanese resorted to Banzai attacks which were suppressed with machine guns and artillery support.

Of the 21,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima, about 18,000 died from combat or ritual suicide. The battle resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 deaths.

An aerial image that was taken as the first wave of Marines advanced on Iwo Jima. In total, nearly 110,000 Marines, sailors, and airmen participated in rooting out the Japanese forces dug in on the island. funker530
The first wave of U.S. Marines heads for the beach of Iwo Jima on February 19. CNN
The Navy used its big guns to destroy the lethal Japanese artillery where possible and to break open bunkers firing on U.S. troops. US Navy
This picture was snapped moments before the Marines on board the landing craft hit the beaches of Iwo Jima. This was just the beginning of what would be a slug fest with Japanese troops on the island. funker530
When the fire was particularly heavy, the soldiers would burrow into the sand for cover. National Park Srvice
Photo caption: Iwo Jima, February 24, 1945. Scratch One Jap Position: A Japanese position at the base of Mount Suribachi is eliminated by a high explosive charge set off by the invading Marines. US Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections
1) A Japanese soldier was playing dead in a shell hole until two Marines came across him. After moving the grenade that was with in an arms reach of the Japanese soldier, the Marines ensure he wasn’t booby trapped. They then offer the man a cigarette before taking him captive. Funker530
A Marine with a flamethrower crests the top of a ridge line during a charge against a Japanese pillbox on Motoyama airfield. Funker530
Additional forces surged onto the beach as the first waves made their way inland. The reinforcements were made necessary by the stunning Marine losses. One 900-man regiment lost 750 Marines in just 5 hours. US Marine Corp Archives
United States Marines (foreground) blow up a cave connected to a Japanese blockhouse on Iwo Jima, 1945. Eugene Smith
Armor was a valuable asset on Iwo Jima. The support tanks like the one picture above provided for the infantrymen was essential. The picture above is a top down view of a Sherman tank as it rolls across the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima. Funker530
B-29 after an emergency landing at Iwo Jima. U.S. Air Force photo