Shortly after 0830 on 19 February 1945, the assault ships, landing ships, landing craft, and LVTs standing off the beach of the Japanese stronghold of Iwo Jima saw the “Romeo” flag appear on the signal bridges of the designated ships of Richmond K. Turner’s Task Force 51. Radios crackled with the identical message: “Land the Landing Force”.

iwo jima 1

As the coxwains steered the amtracks and landing craft into assault waves and headed toward the beach, the bloodiest and most difficult 26 days in the history of the Marine Corps began. Fighting savagely against an entrenched, skilled, and determined foe, the forces of the V Amphibious Corps (3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions) under General Holland M. Smith would cover themselves with glory on this forbidding volcanic mass that was a stepping stone to the invasion of the Japanese homeland.

When the island was declared secure on 16 March, 1945, nearly 5.000 Marines and Sailors lay dead, with another 21,000 wounded, with nearly all the 21,000 Japanese defenders also dead. Twenty-seven Medals of Honor were awarded to 22 Marines and 5 Sailors. Admiral Chester Nimitz had proclaimed that, in the battle for Iwo, “uncommon valor was a common virtue”. Also from the stinking slaughterhouse of Iwo Jima came the most famous photograph ever taken, Joe Rosenthal’s iconic image of Easy Company, 28th Marines’ flag raising.


I won’t try and describe those 26 days in this post. So much has been written about Iwo Jima that I could do nothing but disservice to attempt to re-tell those tales here. Please, read the works by Bill Ross, Eric Hammel, and so many others. The story, six and a half decades on, remains among the most compelling in the history of American men at arms.

What should be striking to planners today who discuss amphibious operations in terms of “operational maneuver” is the requirements in numbers of ships to land what was really a modest-sized force. The assault on Iwo Jima was a middling-sized amphibious assault by the standards of 1945. With an initial landing of around 30,000 Marines and 150 tanks, the landing at Iwo was much smaller than TORCH (North Africa) in 1942, HUSKY (Sicily) in 1943, and the 1944 operations of OVERLORD (Normandy), DRAGOON (Southern France), or even MacArthur’s Pacific landings at Hollandia (New Guinea) and Luzon (Philippines).

An examination of forces shows that Admiral Turner’s Task Force 51 (Joint Expeditionary Force) consisted of nearly five hundred ships and craft. Five HUNDRED. Among the ships of TF 51 were forty-three Attack Transports (APA), sixteen Attack Cargo Ships (AKA), six Fast Attack Transports (APD), thirty-one LSMs, and sixty-three LSTs. Sixty-five auxiliary ships, and nearly one hundred landing ships. Such numbers should be noted in today’s discussions about amphibious capabilities and power projection.

However, on this milestone anniversary we should remember the men who fought on Iwo Jima, at places called Beach Green, the Meat Grinder, the Amphitheater, Suribachi, and a hundred others whose names were famous only to those who endured the furnace of that island. To those who survived and those who gave their lives, we owe each of you a debt that can never be repaid. Every single Marine since that battle has measured himself against you, and always will. Semper Fidelis.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in History, Marine Corps, Navy

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  • Wharf Rat

    Not just Marines measure themselves against what happened there, but there are days when I think of the significance of what they did, and other veterans, what I do rings hollow and seems of little signficance. That said – it seems inconsistant to say that and then say it also motivates me to do my best daily, because their sacrifice requires me to do my best, because they protected my freedom.

  • Mark Toomey

    Eighteen LSTs and the submarine chaser PC-469, all manned by the Coast Guard, also participated in the landings.

    The Coast Guard coxswains found it necessary to back their craft into the wind and current to keep from going onto the beach. The beachmasters, salvage parties, and beach parties normally kept the beaches clear, but due to the intense Japanese mortar fire, none of these men could remain on the beach. Therefore the coxswains in the landing craft had to take all the initiative to get to the beach and back off. Even the larger LSMs and LSTs that came to the beach later had difficulty and their commanding officers struggled to keep the waves from broaching their ships. Pontoon causeways were also launched but the seaward ends could not be anchored and they broached, sank, ran adrift and added to the wreckage already on the beaches. The wreckage eventually caused the beaches to be closed to everything smaller than a LCT until tugs and other craft cleared the beach for later waves to disembark troops and supplies.

    Despite all the confusion, the Coast Guard landed contingents of the 4th and 5th Marine divisions along with their gear, bulldozers, vehicles, rations, small arms, water, and virtually everything that would keep the landing forces moving inland. By the end of D-Day 30,000 troops had landed although the beachhead was only 4,000 yards long and 700 yards deep. The 5th Marines on the left advanced quickly across the narrow part of the island and captured one of the three airfields. Part of this division then swung towards Mount Suribachi while other units fought their way northward.

    The Coast Guard ships remained busy off shore. The Bayfield, only 2,000 yards off shore took on board over 250 Marine casualties from small craft as they came from the beaches. The Coast Guard manned LSTs also took the wounded off the beaches and treated them on board. During the operations Coast Guard vessels suffered from the attacks. The LST-792, LST-758, and the LST-760, were all struck by Japanese fire on the beach.

    An intersting side side story regarding the first flag raising:

    May we never forget all those who served, and especially those that gave the ultimate sacrifice in that epic battle!

  • Last Saturday morning, I saw an “Iwo Jima Survivor” ballcap on an older gentleman. He had been a radioman on the USS BOSTON (CA-69) and ended up on the beach. He has my card, and I’m hoping to see him this coming Saturday to meet with the other vets down here, when we have breakfast. While talking to him, another gentleman came up and had been there, with the 5th Marines.

    I also found out there is a book “A Bird’s Eye View,” written by the sons of a signalman on the USS BOSTON during the Iwo Jima landing.

    They walk among us and I was lucky to meet them.

  • My dad Rosaire;Whitey;Gagne landed on Iwo Jima on d day 1 =3 and then day 5-7.He is gone now but will always be here with me.Thank you dad,and all other vets.

    Your son

  • Hubert O Caloud

    I am interviewing a WWII Iwo Jima Veteran who insists he left Hilo did landing in the Hawaiian islands stopped at Pearl Harbor, Saipan and went to Iwo Jima on a ship called the Napa Chirper.

    Off shore at Iwo he transferred to an LST whose Hull Number he cannot remember

    He was in the 27th Replacement Draft 5th Marine Division. I can only find a USS Napa (APA-157) which hauled 4th Division troops. I can find no ship with that name. He insists. Can anyone clarify this?

    • Barbara Cantley Hartman

      My father who is 97 always talked about being on a ship called the Napa Chirper. In fact, he named our dog after it. He was in the army and from what I can gather was a transport ship to Hawaii. He has dementia now and I can’t get too much info. Wish we had talked about it earlier.

  • Jerome gardner

    If the man says he was there Then who is to deny?

  • corey harris

    WW2 was and still is the biggest war of all time all of the men and women who were in it aren’t just veterans they are heroes they defended the world when the world needed it the most.

  • joe fazzio

    my father angelo fazzio landed on that place with all the ash feb 19 we have iwo jima day at the house , im peoud to say he made it home my best frend my dad , he lived till he was 84 years old. he was my hero i will never forget what he did and all the brave men god bless ,joseph fazzio a proud son, p,s he was in the fith dv, 26th marines, semper fidelis

  • JCH1952

    My father is 92. He landed in the 6th wave on Green Beach, 0920. He was a Navy corpsman with the 28th Regiment. Contrary to what many histories say, his unit was hit by 20mm fire the moment they landed. It lasted until members of the 1st Battalion located the enemy gun and eliminated it – didn’t take them long. One Marine was killed by the 20mm fire, buried in the 3rd grave of the 5th Division Cemetery, and four were wounded. In terms of dad’s work on Iwo Jima, so it began. It was quiet for a few minutes, but soon 1st Battalion wounded were streaming back to the beach, and the shelling began intensifying.

  • Reminising,I landed here. (Reposting since I think I failed to hit post a few moments ago.) I suspect I may be the ONLY person alive today to have the distinction of being only 15 y/o at the landings of Iwo Jima. If not, am sure you could count us on two fingers. I was on a gun crew aboard the destroyer John Rodgers (DD-574). Our destroyer squadron (25) went back and forth shelling the beaches for some time, trying to destroy pill boxes and gun installations before the Marines landed. Then roughly 40 days later, we did the same exact thing at Okinawa, however, by then I was 16 Y/O ( my birthday is March 21st)
    I usually don’t talk much about this since most people today don’t recognize the importance of this engagement, and probably would not believe me even if they did. Then,(re-enlisted) Sent to the Korean War, I arrived at Inchon one week after the landings. About three months later, I got screwed up and hospitalized, sent back to the US, hospitalized for several months, then told me they were sending me home, didn’t need me any more.
    But, I have some good memories, Three enlistments, two wars, four ships. But later went to Vietnam, (Lear Siegler), Contracted to Dept. of Defense) for short time.
    Now 83 and to damn old to do much of anything I used to do, However, I have lots of good memories. You just got a thumbnail.
    Bill Logan
    Central Florida