With the Americans’ capture of the Philippine and Mariana Islands, the Japanese regarded Iwo Jima, with its three airfields and its warning system of air raids against the mainland, as being of increasing importance. Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi accordingly fortified the entire island with a sophisticated and complex network of deep tunnels, bunkers, artillery positions and camouflaged tanks. The Americans had been bombing the island’s defences repeatedly since June 1944, and on 16 February 1945 the navy mounted a fierce, three-day bombardment, but with little effect. Consequently, the US landings on the soft volcanic beaches of the southeast coast on 18 February became a killing field. The ensuing six weeks of engagements across the island were exceptionally bloody, with the Japanese ready to fight to their deaths and determined to inflict maximum casualties. Although ultimately successful, ‘Operation Detachment’ cost the Americans about 7,000 men, and the Japanese about 18,000.
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