Tactical Defeat of US marines at Iwo Jima?

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JamesL
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Post by JamesL » 16 Dec 2006 16:46

My father served at Iwo Jima aboard a US Navy heavy cruiser. They were tasked with bombarding the airbases on the northern side of the island. Initially they used their 8 inch guns and then moved close to shore and used their 5 inch guns. They actually used 5 inch anti-aircraft shells against the Japanese planes parked alongside the runways. Eventually the ship ran out of ammunition and left the area.

What has not been mentioned is that Iwo Jima had been bombarded on and off for months on end. On July 4, 1944 elements of the US fleet bombarded the island, sort of an Independence Day Celebration.

Here is a snip from the July 4, 1944 War Diary.

"Bombardment detachment – BOSTON, CANBERRA, MILLER, THE SULLIVANS, COWELL, BROWN, MOBILE, SANTA FE, BILOXI, DENVER, DesDiv 91, DesDiv 103.

"Carrier Group – WASP, FRANKLIN, CABOT, MONTEREY

"Proceeded to a point northeast tip of Iwo Jima. There the bombardment detachments separated and commenced bombardment of assigned targets. Targets were two airdromes, storage dumps, gun emplacements, and settlements. Considerable smoke was observed and planes on the southern field were left burning. Details of damage inflicted are not known at this writing, but a preliminary report of this group’s results estimated 60 to 70 planes destroyed or damaged on the field, radio or radar installation destroyed, considerable damage to settlement and airstrip facilities, an ammunition dump blown up and An AK left sinking.

"Ammunition expended by this ship was 317 rounds of 8 inch HC, 772 rounds of 5 inch AAC."

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Post by Gen_Del_Pilar » 16 Dec 2006 21:02

Well, I tend to agree with Kim Sung in that the Japanese defensive effort on Iwo Jima was a very good tactical performance. I fall short of calling it a "tactical defeat" for the Americans although can certainly understand why some would view it thus. Yes, the Japanese were well dug in (a very important advantage) but then again take a look at some of the numerous American advantages:

- They outnumbered the Japanese defenders by more than 3 to 1
- They had a massive firepower advantage with respect to general infantry combat
- Their supply situation was immeasurably more favorable
- They benefited from a huge volume of air and naval bombardment (okay, not nearly as long as they would have liked, but you can't tell me the bombardments were totally ineffective)
- Their forces had a clear edge in combat experience (and probably training) over the defenders
ChristopherPerrien wrote:Well you can't compare these two numbers. Because all the Japanese are dead, On the American side, wounded and I think non-battle sick and injured are included so most of these guys will be back to fight/serve again. So you wind up with about 21000: 6-7000?, +3:1 which is pretty good considering the Japanese had an extreme dug-in defensive advantage with no flanks. While this is one of the better casualty ratios of the Pacific war, it certainly isn't the best battle operation the Japanese did. I would rate their defense of the Phillipines as being better and there are definitely some battles in the BCI that they performed better also.
It isn't nearly as clear-cut as this. First of all, as has previously been mentioned by mars and Kim, the ratio of KIA is considerably skewed by the fact that the Japanese were defending a totally isolated island outpost with no chance of retreat or evacuation. Secondly, Qvist and I had a discussion about WIA vs KIA stats earlier this year - this is one thing he had to say:
Qvist wrote:A wounded soldier was not a "fleeting" loss to his unit. According to Krivosheev, the average reconvalescence time for a wounded Red Army soldier was something like 79 days. A wounded soldier was evacuated away from his unit, and typically only returned there after a prolonged period of time. At least for the purposes of an ongoing operation, he was pretty much as much a loss to his unit as any man killed... I doubt very much that the proportion of killed to wounded says anything very meaningful about the performance of the other side. On the whole, combat activity simply results in casualties, be they killed or wounded. One can imagine certain situations where skill is the difference between death or injury (A sniper for instance), but in the larger picture an MG round or a piece of shrapnel can just as well hit someone in the shoulder as in the heart... Wounded is as relevant as a measure of combat activity as other types of casualties. Wounded differ from killed and missing in that many of them return, but this is neither here nor there with regard to a judgment of efficiency.
Now keep in mind that in that thread I was actually arguing that KIA does mean somewhat more than WIA as far as performance goes, but at the same time I would never go as far as to simply compare the KIA rates at Iwo Jima and use that as the sole measurement of performance.

In a nutshell, the Japanese did inflict more overall casualties than the Americans did at Iwo Jima, which is no mean tactical success. Chris, I'm surprised you nominated the Philippines as an example of a good defense - surely the casualty ratios there (both overall and KIA only) vastly favored the Americans?

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Post by ChristopherPerrien » 16 Dec 2006 23:47

Gen_Del_Pilar wrote: In a nutshell, the Japanese did inflict more overall casualties than the Americans did at Iwo Jima, which is no mean tactical success. Chris, I'm surprised you nominated the Philippines as an example of a good defense - surely the casualty ratios there (both overall and KIA only) vastly favored the Americans?
Surely they do. But what the Japanese accomplished during and because of the defense of the Phillipines makes my view so. The Japanese defense of the Phillipines, was such that it effectively tied up an American Army for the rest of the war, and threw both the timetables and successes of proceeding operations out of wack. One effect has been noted here, the reduction of the bombarment phase and support of the Iwo assault. We are are having a discussion of some of these aspects in the topic,
" Japanese exagerations",check it out.

If you start looking at the total casualties for Iwo and the Phillipine campaign things things don't look so lop-sided. I dislike doing this because it is bean counting analysis. But I suppose it is better than some claims/conclusions I have seen

Using killratio analyis which is done for Iwo at 3:1 but then using this same formula the Phillipines, Killratios can get toted up to 25:1

Overall US casualties in PI were on the order of 165,000 compared to about 250,000 Japanese, on Iwo it was 21000 to 27000.

Of course there is more to it than that, but I got to go now, I'll get back to this

Chris

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LWD
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Post by LWD » 17 Dec 2006 04:08

Calling it a Japanese tactical victory is also a bit one sided. If you say it was because they accomplished their goals then how do you account for the marines also accomplishing theirs? Now it might be argued especially on a tactical level that the US victory was a phyric one. The fact remains that the Japanese knew they were going to loose and loose they did. The did hope to perhaps win at least some sort of stragegic edge by inflicting as many casualties as possible on the US forces. I just don't see how this can reasonably be considered a tactical victory. It did have strategic implications as to how the US would conduct the rest of the war whether this constitutes some sort of strategic victory is another matter.

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Post by mars » 17 Dec 2006 04:14

Well said, LWD, that was exactly my point

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Post by ChristopherPerrien » 17 Dec 2006 08:22

mars wrote:Kim, I would prefere call battle of Iwo Jima a hard won American victory, no matter what some Japanese would like to call it, would not change this fact.
ChristopherPerrien, though, we shall be a liitle fair to Japanese, the reason the deaths of Japanese was larger than Americans was very simple, those wounded Americans mostly could expect to be evacuated and survied, most of those wounded Japanese would die.
I think you might be misunderstanding my reasoning behind my comments. I of course realize that wounded Japanese had little chance of survival because of their limited medical care and no chance of evacution. But I think it goes alot further than that as the Japanese usually prefered death to surrendering or being wounded. A wounded person for a period of time is both useless and a detriment to your own side , this effect is greatly compounded when your side has very limited or no supplies of any kind, and none on the way. In so many instances this led the Japanese to either their wounded killing themselves or being killed.

It is the "death cult" attitude of the Japanese in WWII that makes using Japanese casualty figures or comparing these figures to Allied caualties, a very arbitrary method to judge effectiveness of either the Japanese or their opponents. Alot of people do it or have done it. Sorry to say, I did it earlier in this topic. But it ain't a good way to comment on history as it ignores so much or it often gives that appearance.

Perhaps one day I'll sit down and look at some casualty figures for the land battles of the Pacific and instead of just "counting the beans" in different ways, I will try to put some real statistical analysis to them. I am most interested in trying to find exactly how difference in doctrine between the USMC and the US Army led to various outcomes.
Also I would like confirm or deny some suspicions I have about the accuracy of both the methods of compiling casualty figures and the numbers themselves. Which I believe might go far toward explaining some of the weird and wide variations and ratios I see in some the campaigns.

Chris

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Post by Eugen Pinak » 19 Dec 2006 13:38

There is a good saying:
"There are just two kind of armies - those, which are vinning their battles, and those, which are losing them."

There is only one way we could've talked about "tactical victory of Japanese on Iwo Jima" - if after the battle US decided, that the cost of the future landings will be too high, and decided to refuse from future landings. But, desprite all the losses US were still ready to pay "in blood" for the capture of the islands, and Japanese were unable to stop them.

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Post by Gen_Del_Pilar » 16 Feb 2007 13:26

Eugen Pinak wrote:There is only one way we could've talked about "tactical victory of Japanese on Iwo Jima" - if after the battle US decided, that the cost of the future landings will be too high, and decided to refuse from future landings. But, desprite all the losses US were still ready to pay "in blood" for the capture of the islands, and Japanese were unable to stop them.
I disagree.

If after the battle the US decided to discontinue future landings, surely this would be a strategic victory.

As for the concept of a "tactical victory", look at for instance naval battles like Coral Sea (May 1942) and Santa Cruz Islands (October 1942). While strategic defeats for the IJN, these are widely regarded to be narrow Japanese tactical victories, since in both cases the USN lost slightly more ships. And in both cases, IIRC, the IJN lost more men than the USN in spite of this - yet still the Japanese seem to be more often than not awarded with the tactical "prize". I believe the same is true of Iwo Jima: it certainly has a strong case for being considered a tactical Japanese victory, if nothing else.

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Post by LWD » 16 Feb 2007 17:41

Normaly in a defence the defender is considered to have won if he holds on to the position. In this case the Japanese had already decided they coldn't do this. So they essentially gave up any hope of a tactical victory. What they hoped for was a strategic one. IE inflict enough casulaties to affect the outcome of the war. In combination with Okinawa they may actually have achieved this if not for the A-bomb. The US was very leary of invading Japan in large part due to those two battles. In summary I sitll don't rate it a tactical victory for the Japanese but it certainly influenced US strategy for the rest of the war. Whether or not this constitured a victory of some sort depends as much on semantics as anything else.

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Post by Eugen Pinak » 16 Feb 2007 23:26

Gen_Del_Pilar wrote:As for the concept of a "tactical victory", look at for instance naval battles like Coral Sea (May 1942) and Santa Cruz Islands (October 1942). While strategic defeats for the IJN, these are widely regarded to be narrow Japanese tactical victories, since in both cases the USN lost slightly more ships.
Well, if a faliture to achieve one's goals is called victory - than yes, Iwo Jima was a victory for Japanese :lol:

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Post by Gen_Del_Pilar » 18 Feb 2007 14:05

Eugen Pinak wrote:
Gen_Del_Pilar wrote:As for the concept of a "tactical victory", look at for instance naval battles like Coral Sea (May 1942) and Santa Cruz Islands (October 1942). While strategic defeats for the IJN, these are widely regarded to be narrow Japanese tactical victories, since in both cases the USN lost slightly more ships.
Well, if a faliture to achieve one's goals is called victory - than yes, Iwo Jima was a victory for Japanese :lol:
No one in this topic (not even the OP) has contended that Iwo Jima was a "victory" for the Japanese. There's a big difference between the concept of a victory, the concept of a tactical victory, and the concept of a strategic victory.

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Post by Keystone » 18 Feb 2007 14:16

Possibly the widespread notority of the Japanese victory at Iwo Jima has been overshadowed by their likewise victorious achievements of August 1945.

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Post by Eugen Pinak » 19 Feb 2007 16:12

Gen_Del_Pilar wrote:
Eugen Pinak wrote:
Gen_Del_Pilar wrote:As for the concept of a "tactical victory", look at for instance naval battles like Coral Sea (May 1942) and Santa Cruz Islands (October 1942). While strategic defeats for the IJN, these are widely regarded to be narrow Japanese tactical victories, since in both cases the USN lost slightly more ships.
Well, if a faliture to achieve one's goals is called victory - than yes, Iwo Jima was a victory for Japanese :lol:
No one in this topic (not even the OP) has contended that Iwo Jima was a "victory" for the Japanese. There's a big difference between the concept of a victory, the concept of a tactical victory, and the concept of a strategic victory.
OK. So let me describe all this epic tactical victory in Iwo Jima:
1) it took US forces five weeks to annihilate Japanese force and gain incredibly important airfields there.
2) US force was three times lager, than Japanese - superiority considered barely enough for "normal" offensive operations, not talking about capture of seriously fortified "rock".
3) loss ratio was 3,5 Japanese for each American killed.
4) c.5% of the Japanese force were taken prisoners (1/3 higher ratio, if compare with Saipan, for example).
5) there were absolutely no positive results of this campaign to Japanese - unless if you'll count as such fall of the Koiso Cabinet and replacement it with the Suzuki one - one who managed to surrender at last.
Wow! What a victory! - I'd say :lol:

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Post by Gen_Del_Pilar » 21 Feb 2007 02:21

My position is quite simple: that there's a case for interpreting Iwo Jima as a tactical defeat for the Americans (although still I tend towards not going quite that far, see my first post in this topic). Yours appears to be that Iwo Jima was a crushing tactical victory for the Americans and all theories to the contrary are ludicrous - please correct me if I'm wrong.
Eugen Pinak wrote:OK. So let me describe all this epic tactical victory in Iwo Jima:
1) it took US forces five weeks to annihilate Japanese force and gain incredibly important airfields there.
2) US force was three times lager, than Japanese - superiority considered barely enough for "normal" offensive operations, not talking about capture of seriously fortified "rock".
3) loss ratio was 3,5 Japanese for each American killed.
4) c.5% of the Japanese force were taken prisoners (1/3 higher ratio, if compare with Saipan, for example).
5) there were absolutely no positive results of this campaign to Japanese - unless if you'll count as such fall of the Koiso Cabinet and replacement it with the Suzuki one - one who managed to surrender at last.
Wow! What a victory! - I'd say :lol:
Points 1 and 5 are related to strategic aspects and not tactical aspects, hence irrelevant in discussing tactical performance.

As for point 3, as many people have said in this topic and in others (see what was discussed a few posts back for instance), comparing KIA rates is a rather arbitrary way of assessing performance, especially in this context. There's a strong case for regarding overall casualties as a more appropriate measure, and in this department the Japanese had the edge. Which leads us to the question: how is point 4 relevant to the concept of tactical performance?

Anyway, all this notwithstanding, we can easily construct a similar list to cover the Battle of the Coral Sea:

1) it took US forces two days to drive back the Japanese force, win a priceless "morale" victory, and deal a fatal blow to Japanese plans to invade Port Moresby (with consequent massive implications for the Battle of Guadalcanal, etc etc).
2) US force was even slightly smaller than the Japanese.
3) Loss ratio was at least 2 Japanese for each American casualty.
4) Some sources even quote the manpower loss ratio as high as 6 to 1.
5) There were absolutely no positive results of this campaign to the Japanese - unless if you'll count as such the complete ruination of Japan's chances to gain a lasting foothold in New Guinea, a major setback to their chances of doing likewise at Guadalcanal, and consequently a significant blow to their overall chances of avoiding total defeat in the Pacific War.

And yet, in spite of the above, it's still widely considered to be a Japanese tactical victory. For instance by:

http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/even ... ralsea.htm
http://www.combinedfleet.com/btl_cs.htm
http://www.ww2pacific.com/coralsea.html
http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/I/USMC-I-V-1.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Coral_Sea

... and so on. Are you starting to see what I'm getting at?

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Post by Eugen Pinak » 21 Feb 2007 19:50

Gen_Del_Pilar wrote:Anyway, all this notwithstanding, we can easily construct a similar list to cover the Battle of the Coral Sea:

1) it took US forces two days to drive back the Japanese force, win a priceless "morale" victory, and deal a fatal blow to Japanese plans to invade Port Moresby (with consequent massive implications for the Battle of Guadalcanal, etc etc).
2) US force was even slightly smaller than the Japanese.
3) Loss ratio was at least 2 Japanese for each American casualty.
4) Some sources even quote the manpower loss ratio as high as 6 to 1.
5) There were absolutely no positive results of this campaign to the Japanese - unless if you'll count as such the complete ruination of Japan's chances to gain a lasting foothold in New Guinea, a major setback to their chances of doing likewise at Guadalcanal, and consequently a significant blow to their overall chances of avoiding total defeat in the Pacific War.

And yet, in spite of the above, it's still widely considered to be a Japanese tactical victory.
So what? You are absolutely correctly pointed out themselve all the differenses between boxing fight (winning by points - how silly! :) ) and war battle.
BTW, you've forgot one more important point: while Japanese learned no lessons form Coral Sea battle, while USN managed to learn a few things - like importance of damage control ("Lady Lex" could've survived, if not faults in damage control), importance of proper recon and trust in US COMINT.

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