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Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945

Author: Derrick Wright
224 pages (January 2000)
Sutton Publishing
ISBN: 0750921676
Dimensions (in inches): 0.74 x 9.52 x 6.40


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Editorial Reviews
"In the beginning, Iwo Jima was just an unknown island in the north Pacific Ocean. In the end, it was to become the island of death." That grim but accurate appraisal begins The Battle for Iwo Jima: 1945, a blow-by-blow eyewitness account of one of World War II's most critical--and bloody--conflicts, what author Derrick Wright (A Hell of a Way to Die) describes as "the greatest battle in Marine Corps history."
By 1945, Iwo Jima had become a linchpin of enormous tactical importance. Victory in Europe was all but assured, and the largest navy ever to set sail had chased Japan's Imperial fleet back to its native shores. But Iwo Jima remained a persistent thorn, giving Japan hours of warning for air raids and allowing Japanese fighters to harass B-29 bomber routes. The Americans were forced to take Iwo Jima, and the Japanese command knew it--and even though they couldn't hold the island, they were determined to make the U.S. pay dearly. "[F]orewarned of the American invasion and resigned to dying at their posts, [the Japanese] were determined to take as many Marines with them as possible. 'Do not plan for my return,' wrote the commander of the island, Lt. Gen. Kuribayashi, in one of his last letters to his wife."

Wright gets on the ground, down and dirty, covering both sides of the conflict, interviewing survivors from both sides, excerpting official documents and letters (including Kuribayashi's), digging up previously unpublished photos, and giving intimate tooth-and-nail (and often grisly) accounts of every engagement, from prelanding prep to D day to D+36. An excellent and engaging piece of work, with enough sketches, maps, photos, and command structure org charts to satisfy the most serious military history buff. --Paul Hughes


Reviewed Br Edward M. COFFMAN

Hell was a small volcanic island in the Pacific for five weeks in early 1945 during World War 11. There had been other hells for those who fought with such viciousness, and in the remaining months of the war, there would be others, but this 7!~-square-mile island with the steaming volcanic sand looked the part. Almost 27,000 men died there, and those who survived would never forget Iwo Jima. In The  Battle for Iwo jima 1945, Derrick Wright provides a brief but comprehensive history of that epic battle, while Lynn S. Kessler and Edmond B. Bart, in Never in Doubt: Remembering Iwo Jima furnish accounts from Americans who fought there.


"The Godforsaken Dot”


Wright deftly sets the scene. After the Americans captured Saipan their new B-29s could attack mainland Japan, but the round-trip of more than 2400 miles was a perilous stretch. The godforsaken dot of Iwo Jima was roughly halfway and, if the Americans seized it, could provide a haven for damaged bombers. The Japanese realized this, reinforced the garrison, and began fortifying Iwo.

In May 1944, a month before the Americans captured Saipan, Prime Minister Tojo gave the commander of the emperor's guard, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the mission of preparing Iwo for the inevitable battle. Kuribayashi studied the other island campaigns and designed an in-depth defense that depended on the natural caves, supplemented with elaborate fortifications and tunnels. Wright s use of this outstanding officer's letters, as well as testimony from several of the Japanese survivors, gives the reader substantial coverage of the defenders.

On February 19, a beautiful day, assault waves of Marines hit the beach. The American commanders veterans of other island battles, assumed that victory was inevitable. The only questions were how many lives it would cost and how long it would take. Based on their experience, it seemed likely that, although the fight might be bloody, it would be over within ten days. The massive preparatory naval bombardment and the strength of the three divisions they could bring to bear were certainly formidable. But the Marines soon learned that the bombardment did little damage to the Japanese fortification and that, despite their great strength--more than 70,000 men in all--only so many could get into position to tight the enemy, which numbered 21,000.

Wright describes and explains the lighting day to day, as the Marines slowly pushed back the enemy. Although a detail of Marines was able to rose a flag on the highest point of the island, Mount Suribachi, on D plus 4, this meant only that they had secured one small part of Iwo.

Kudbayashi had prepared well indeed, and, once the battle was joined, he and his troops showed skill equal to the Marines,' making them pay dearly for every yard they advanced. The Japanese assumed that they would not get out alive; thus, their aims were to hold as long as they could and to kill as many Marines as possible in the process.

Kessler and Ban get across the intensity, the visceral fear, and the horror of this battle in the oral histories they collected from 15 veterans. These include infantrymen, artillerymen, junior officers, tankers, engineers, sailors, replacements, and medics (including a Navy nurse), who give a broad perspective to the American side of the story.

All who made it through the bouncing ride in the assault boats to shore found it difficult to walk in the black sand that seemed to pull one down. Bodies were strewn on the beach and then later, as the battle progressed, stacked in rows. The stench of death permeated the atmosphere


The Enemy unseen


One rarely saw the enemy 'they were too well dug in and hidden, but they made their presence felt with accurate, deadly artillery and machine gun lire. Fifty years later, veterans carry memories of seeing men blown apart, of friends killed as they stood next to them. Casualties were so heavy that one might find a private first class commanding a company.

Those who did live wore their clothes for weeks and tried to get what sleep they could in steaming hot foxholes, in which a moment's lapse in alertness could mean death at the hands of enemy soldiers who infiltrated the lines. Night could mean Hand to hand combat, when bone-tired men fought for their lives. When the tanks came in with their flame-throwers, the Marines gained the advantage, burning and burying the Japanese in their hideouts. When it finally ended, the B-29s had their way station.

One of the veterans Kessler and Bart located was Angelo Bertelli, who had won the Heisman Trophy as Notre Dame's quarterback in 1943. He landed at Iwo as a liaison officer but soon found himself in command of a half-strength platoon that he led throughout the rest of the battle. Bertelli died shortly after this book was published. But his contribution reminds us of the importance of oral history, and these two books enable us to appreciate what really happened at Iwo Jima.

DERRICK WRIGHT is the author of Tarawa: A Hell of a Way to Die

LYNN S. KESSLER is the author of Honor and Glory and writes frequently for domestic and foreign publications. EDMOND B. BART is a U.S. Marine Corps aviator whose father fought with the 2d Marine Division in the Central Pacific.


EDWARD M. COFFMAN is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His books include The War to End All Wars: The American Military experience in World War L


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