Tactical Defeat of US marines at Iwo Jima?

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Counting Losses.

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 07 Apr 2007 22:47

I suspose when counting losses one method would be to judge the WIA a permanent or temporary loss. In the case of the US military aiming at the invasion of Japan one might count only those WIA permanetly maimed & unfit for further combat service as 'lost'. Those who recovered & returned to service would be losses for the battle of Iwo Jima, but their presence & experince for later battles would remove them from the 'lost' count when evaluating for the longer term.

A few years ago I ran across an account by a young Marine who was evacuated for wounds during the first week of combat on Iwo. He recovered quickly & in the last week returned to his battalion. Offcially he was a WIA, & not present for much of the battle, but he did return to the fight. There may have only been a few dozen like him that were landed twice across the beach. Quite a few others were treated for wounds, then returned to combat withing the day, and often were wounded again. The individual & several thousand like him would be amoung the wounded in the medical records. How are they to be counted?

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Post by LWD » 09 Apr 2007 18:25

stulev wrote:I agree - but the Japanese had a different mind set ...
I'm not really sure you would call it a different mindset. They knew that they couldn't win a tactical victory what they hoped to do was in the course of loosing a tactically win or at least create a positive strategic effect. One can see a similar logic in the actions of the US DDs of Samar. They didn't think they could win a tactical battle but they hoped to limit the extent of the Japanese tactical victory and create a strategic situation where the US would win the next round.

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Re: Counting Losses.

Post by Gen_Del_Pilar » 10 Apr 2007 00:46

Carl Schwamberger wrote:A few years ago I ran across an account by a young Marine who was evacuated for wounds during the first week of combat on Iwo. He recovered quickly & in the last week returned to his battalion. Offcially he was a WIA, & not present for much of the battle, but he did return to the fight. There may have only been a few dozen like him that were landed twice across the beach. Quite a few others were treated for wounds, then returned to combat withing the day, and often were wounded again. The individual & several thousand like him would be amoung the wounded in the medical records. How are they to be counted?
A good point but this sort of conundrum is by no means specific to Iwo Jima. Basically any battle of moderate length will have such occurrences, and many will pose considerably greater headaches than Iwo Jima. Take for instance Verdun, which featured nearly 10 months of opportunity for wounded soldiers to be sent back into the fray and wounded again. I think it's reasonable to presume that contemporary estimates of the WIA at Iwo Jima, as well as WIA estimates of other modern battles, are made with this factor in mind (i.e. with the ultimate aim of counting multiple wounds on a given soldier in a battle as only 1 WIA).

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Post by Carl Schwamberger » 10 Apr 2007 01:34

" I think it's reasonable to presume that contemporary estimates of the WIA at Iwo Jima, as well as WIA estimates of other modern battles, are made with this factor in mind (i.e. with the ultimate aim of counting multiple wounds on a given soldier in a battle as only 1 WIA).[/color]"

I'm not ready to presume anything on this point. With twenty years in the military I'd probablly choose the opposite just from experince. Despite that I'll keep a open mind & consider any solid evidence that might come up here. :)

One problem is that while the medical service may have a system for rationalizing the casualty count even the best historians will probablly not present those complex data bases & formula, but rather toss out a likely number picked from stacks of document & presented to make one point or another, but without the context to be of any real use.

Its sort of like unit strengths in the America Civil War. One side presented its total strength for a regiment in the daily reports. The other habitually subtracted those in the hospital, detached for guards or other special duty, absent on leave, or absent without leave but not yeat decalred a a deserter, those absent for punishment... If you dont know which system the unit was using your numbers will be skewed.

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Re: Tactical Defeat of US marines at Iwo Jima?

Post by sonofsamphm1c » 24 Feb 2009 03:55

The number of WIA who returned to duty while their units were still fighting on Iwo Jima was quite high. The Navy Hospital Corps performed at a very high level on Iwo Jima. If a Marine was wounded and treated by a corpsman or surgeon, he was highly likely to be listed as officially WIA - once they got their hands on a wounded Marine, there was, by the standards of WW2, a high likelihood he would survive. They kept what, to me anyway, are exceptional records given the circumstances.

Combat fatigue is not included in the WIA number, and there were a lot of combat fatigue evacuations during the battle.

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Re:

Post by bf109 emil » 12 May 2009 01:07

Kim Sung wrote:
LWD wrote:Well it was hardly a tactical defeat. While the Marines did take hugh losses so did the Japanese. I think a big part of it is that Tadamich knew he couldn't win. So he didn't try to win he simply tried to inflict as many casualties as possible. Especially early in the battle the US was not ready for this. By the end they had adopted a lot of new or variants of old tactics to counter what the Japanese were doing. This was still a bloody business because the Japanese to a large part were commited to the objective of fighting to the end and causing as many casualties as possible.
The Japanese goal was not to win the battle, just to inflict as many casualties as possible. In this point the Japanese were fully successful. That's why I call the battle of Iwo Jima a Japanese tactical victory.
this is as sane as saying Stalingrad was a German tactical victory cause more soviets perished in 4 months of fighting then did German...if anything Iwo Jima help rally American spirits, allowed the Japs to understand even the best and most formidable built defense where still no match for American might and from this point forward the only end they would be on in a fight is the losing end :?

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Re: Tactical Defeat of US marines at Iwo Jima?

Post by der alte Landser » 08 Nov 2009 22:18

This is a stickied topic, so I thought I would add some comments even though it's been inactive for awhile. Just for context, I'm the owner and web master of the web site, World War II Gyrene.

http://www.ww2gyrene.org/index.htm

Iwo Jima is by far the best know campaign of the Pacific war, and it was the only campaign in which three Marine divisions were deployed simultaneously. There were around 72,000 Marines in the Vth Amphibious Corps on D-Day. This is often the number cited in the 3 to 1 ratio of attackers to defenders in the campaign. But the number is somewhat misleading, because only a certain percentage of these Marines were actually involved in direct combat. And of course, as the battle area was compressed as the campaign dragged on, there were fewer and fewer infantry Marines and engineers to dig out the last remnants of the enemy garrison.

Several years ago, I wrote a theme on the 26th Marine Regiment, Fifth Marine Division, that illustrated its struggle to maintain strength as the campaign progressed:

http://www.ww2gyrene.org/spotlight4_26thmarines.htm

In my opinion, Iwo Jima was a tragic campaign from the human perspective, and there are debates that still go on today on whether it was necessary. (I believe that it was, for the record.) But there is no doubt that it was a tactical victory for US forces. There are certainly arguments to be made that it could have been executed better, and that specific actions were not executed correctly by the Marines. But we also have to keep in mind that Marine combat units were decimated during the fighting. What is amazing (but not surprising) is that battalions and companies were able to function at all at the end of the campaign.

A tactical victory occurs when a force interdicts or interrupts the enemy's plan to the extent that he (the enemy) cannot fulfill his combat objective(s). In the isolated sense of specific actions fought on Iwo Jima, there were cases where the Japanese accomplished this. But there was not a single objective that the Marines did not secure in the end. The proof is that they captured the island and destroyed the enemy garrison almost to the last man. The fact was, and is, that the Marines were willing to pay more for the real estate than the Japanese could afford to.

So, did Japanese forces achieve limited tactical victories? Yes. But only to the extent that units in defensive positions could stall or hinder Marines in small unit actions for a limited period of time. But once Marine units could unhinge or eliminate enemy positions, the Japanese, having no freedom to maneuver, were defeated in detail, thereby making any limited tactical victory meaningless.

Insofar as any campaign is concerned, the only questions are:

1) Does the unit has the resources (ie combat power) to achieve that objectives?
2) What percentage of casualties can be incurred in achievement of assigned objectives, and still keep victory within the realm of possibility?

Now, to question with hindsight whether or not a battle was worthwhile, is a different matter. But, even that debate can easily be clouded with information that planners and commanders did not have access to, or data that simply did not exist at the time they made their decisions and plans. Clearly, the Vth Amphibious Corps had the combat power necessary to accomplish its mission on Iwo, and the casualties (horrendous as they were) did not stop the Corps from from accomplishing its mission. And the enemy was unable to salvage any of its forces from the island to fight in later campaigns. Every single Japanese tank, artillery piece, rifle, truck, or any other piece of equipment was a combat write-off, as were the lives of every Japanese defender. Therefore, the campaign was a tactical loss for the Japanese.

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Re: Tactical Defeat of US marines at Iwo Jima?

Post by bf109 emil » 09 Nov 2009 05:13

Therefore, the campaign was a tactical loss for the Japanese
Iwo Jima was vital as a forward airstrip unto which B-29 could receive fighter support to and from Japan, not only was it a tactical loss for those Japanese located upon Iwo, but upon the nation of Japan itself by now dealing with Bombers which could now be escorted to and from the target as well as a landing base for crippled bombers otherwise the alternative was to ditch at sea. Something which up until then was unnecessary if this base could be captured and in the coming months would increase as strikes upon Japan by B-29 where constantly increasing.

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Re: Tactical Defeat of US marines at Iwo Jima?

Post by der alte Landser » 09 Nov 2009 07:00

Yes, that's a good point. There is a fairly large group of historians that believe that Iwo Jima was not important enough as an objective to warrant the loss of life in securing the island. I believe that one factor these people overlook is that the war actually ended before Iwo achieved the real level of importance it would've had in the invasion of Japan, which thank goodness never happened.

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Re: Tactical Defeat of US marines at Iwo Jima?

Post by bf109 emil » 09 Nov 2009 07:09

der alte Landser wrote:Yes, that's a good point. There is a fairly large group of historians that believe that Iwo Jima was not important enough as an objective to warrant the loss of life in securing the island. I believe that one factor these people overlook is that the war actually ended before Iwo achieved the real level of importance it would've had in the invasion of Japan, which thank goodness never happened.
maybe, but hindesight being 20/20 maybe not, but with the vast amount of naval and air artillery prior, the fact that Bombers where being lost on the return leg home both crippled and not from adequate fighter support was at the time real, and in the end had the amount of casualties been known, is their any doubt the Island would have been softened up some more...but considering this was indeed the first attack by the US upon what can be called Japan's home Island, I'm curious if the Historians could have or would have predicted the ferocity it would be defended by, as at the time I think little was known as to the number of casualties which maybe faced

their is a fact in wiki though which states how the marine corp. could have sufficed fewer casualties
Controversially, the U.S. Navy only provided three days of bombardment, rather than the ten requested by the Marines. The Navy argued it had to conserve ammunition for the invasion of Okinawa, while the Marines accused the Navy of sending its naval Task Force 58 to bomb Japan to deflect attention from the Army's B-29 bombing campaign over Japan

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Re: Other Consideration

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 09 Nov 2009 13:27

Take a look at the map. The Bonin islands are far enough south to be a potiential reconissance and raiding base for Japanese air units vs any US attack. In retrospect we can think this capability as limited. In 1945 this was not certain, it was suspected Japan still had a considerable number of aircraft and pilots. Plus the Japanese had suprised us more than once with unanticipated capability. Taking the priniciple of the Bonin islands (Iwo) blocked any Jaoanese use of the Bonins for air recon or interdiction of the US LoC.

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Re: Tactical Defeat of US marines at Iwo Jima?

Post by der alte Landser » 09 Nov 2009 17:17

Carl: Yes, that is true. And the Japanese used Iwo as a staging base for their air raids on the B29 bases in the Marianas, in addition to using the island at an early warning station. If I remember, both were mentioned in the CincPac planning document for the operation.

In regard to the NGF debate, I don't know that the navy would've allocated more days of prep-fire. They were planning for Okinawa at the same time as they were supporting the assault on Iwo. And the Japanese garrison so many fortified positions, the navy didn't have the tonnage on firepower to service them all. And the AAF dedicated numerous raids against Iwo in the pre-landing phase.

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Re: Tactical Defeat of US marines at Iwo Jima?

Post by H.Schubert » 03 Jan 2010 16:15

Dear Friends
Happy New Year 2010,

Please allow me to ad some observations regarding strategies adoted by the japanese command for Iwo Jima.
I regard the japanese strategic planning and execution as a total strategic and tactical failure for serveral reasons:

1) In regard to the allied advancements in south asia, the japanese command must have anticipated long before IwoJima became an allied seizable target, that the tiny island would be either attacked by:
a) a small or moderated powerfull allied force (assuming that japanese war efforts would have made more significant victories against allied forces in the weeks/months before a probable seizure of IwoJima. . . . in regard to this, reducing a possible allied strike force enough, to make the impact on the island defenses moderate .)
b) the actual far superior allied force, that at the end brought victory over the japanese defenders, by destroying them totaly.

2) When option 1/b) was the most probable happening, the japanese forces had some options how to defend that island.
a) Suicide, by adopting the actual guerilla warfare defensive tactic with no other outcome then a prolonged battle until defeat and maximal feasable destruction open the attacker. This option would mean that the outcome of the battle would be a total disaster for the japanese, hence complete loss of unreplacable men and material.
b) Trying to inflict maximal damage to the attacking force by minimizing own losses. This would mean that the approaching allied force must have been engaged far before beach landings and that a bad outcome of the battle would have been decided on the beaches and not in a defensive tactic relying only on men versus men capacity .(with a killing rate of -3 for -1 attacker!)


3) In regard on how to defend the island without sacrificing ten thausend of men . . . . the japanese command had many options. Especially as the japanese had made many experiences previously with island seizures, resulting in to hight casulties for the attackers.
Probable attack schemes of the allied forces where lying on hand , but no scheme was deep enough studied or researched to form a real trap against the attackers, resulting thought in the same "unchangable" outcome, but with lesser input for the defenders.
Here are some ideas:
- Massive mining of the low ground beach sectors
- baricades against amphibious landings (making a drop out of soldiers from boats only possible off beach in to water, reducing their advance speed > Normandie)
- instead of wasting weeks with tunel and uneffective hole digging, building machine gun shelters instead, which would resist to some point massive arial bombardement from destroyers and making them very difficult to be targeted by precision bombing from the air.
- Reducing the number of defending infantry troops drasticly and instead allowing the smaller force better equippement and fire power for defending the machine gun positions and attacking amphibious landings.
- then the japanese airforce and navy must have been coordinated together for a surprise attack on the attackers.

All these factors would have probably resulted in the same outcome or better outcome for the japanese, considering they assumed far before that they have been in a desperate retreating position, loosing IwoJIma anyway . . but inflicting maximal carnage on the attackers.
IwoJima was basicly as offensive as a beach resort off shore. The japanese completely misscalculated the impact on the complete allied force, assuming that raw human loss, would stop the biggest war machine ever engaged from running them over. Also is it a complete failure from the technological warfare perspective from the japanese, have they come up with some brilliant technological creations during the war and came just up with a raw, unsophisticted, suicidal tactic for IwoJima.

Regards

H.Schubert

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Re: Tactical Defeat of US marines at Iwo Jima?

Post by der alte Landser » 03 Jan 2010 23:28

There's no question, that Iwo Jima had strategic importance to both the Americans and the Japanese. Situated as it was midway between Japan and the Marianas, Iwo Jima was a valuable base for the Japanese, and a necessary objective for American forces. The Japanese were riding a steep learning curve in 1944-1945 as they attempted to stabilize the territorial integrity of their defensive space. Starting at Peleliu in September 1944, American forces first saw the results of the change in Japanese defensive tactics, in which they downplayed the importance of banzai tactics in lieu of a strictly defensive battle from well-prepared defenses making maximum use of natural materials.

It's clear that the Japanese recognized by early 1945 that they did not have the ability to repulse an amphibious assault on the beach defenses. This was why they left only a covering force on the beach head at Iwo Jima, and effectively left the Hagushi beaches on Okinawa undefended. Any emplacements they sited on and close inshore from the landing beaches were quickly and almost inevitably destroyed, as they witnessed again and again. Building these forrtifications was basically a wasted effort with no real tactical result. Their higher level commanders recognized that placing large forces close to the landing beaches could only result in their being rapidly destroyed by NGF and CAS, not to mention by the organic firepower of the units coming ashore.

The Japanese were extremely astute at analyzing the situation in choosing bases and selecting sites for air fields. In regards to this sort of staff work, I believe they were as proficient as any military force in the war. To me, the best example of this was on Guadalcanal in 1942. One of the biggest problems they encountered with lessons learned, was that each campaign they lost also meant the deaths of most officers and men who could've provided important intelligence about American tactics and techniques. Nevertheless, considering what their situation at Iwo Jima, I believe their forces on the island did as well as they could.

As far as casualty ratios, previous campaigns resulted in much more favorable outcomes for American forces than on Iwo Jima or Okinawa. The adoption (as mentioned above) of a less overtly aggressive, more defensively oriented posture by the Japanese made it necessary for American assault forces to methodically reduce their positions. The expected (and hoped for) large night time banzai attacks that failed to materialize deprived the Americans of their best chances to kill large numbers of Japanese troops in the open.

In regard to the engineer preparation of the beaches, the Japanese did not devote much effort to this because the island of Iwo Jima was (and is) subject to relentless ocean action. The steep beach gradient and strong undercurrent made it impossible, given the equipment they had, to heavily fortify the beach approaches. There was no reef around the island to work in, no tidal flats to fortify and improve, channelizing the American into pre-sited fire sacks as their amphibian vehicles came in close ashore. You only have to look at photos of American vehicle and equipment, landing craft, etc, swamped and wrecked along the waterline to see just how powerful the ocean was. Given the American improvements in use of UDT swimmers, and combat engineers to clear beach obstacles, I don't believe that any Japanese preparation of the beach with obstacles would've effectively slowed down the American assault forces.

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Re: Tactical Defeat of US marines at Iwo Jima?

Post by H.Schubert » 04 Jan 2010 03:33

Thanks for the input Landser,

I was avare of the strong undercurrents and ocanic conditions envelloping islands in this region infront of mainland japan. Thought wouldn't have assumed that this criteria made any better beach defense/offense preparation, so impossible!

IwoJima was not a dream position to defend, but there have been worse, especially in early battles against china before the Shanghai battle.

The terrain on Iwojima gave not many favorable positions to allow the defender, to target a large section of flat terrain, allowing machine gun fire to repell a hudge number of attackers with only one or few machine gun positions. The beaches offered the best and unique chance to basicly shoot a will at any approaching boat .
The main problem for these positions would have been to shield them from massive bombardements, before the actual landing of the attackers on the beaches. There was no effective measure (or precise) measure for destroyers or airplanes to bombard close beach machine gun positions, after forces have landed on that beach section, do to the difficluty of precision bombing.

Also did the IJA still have massive equippement stocks within japan, these stocks must have been coordinated long time before the seizure of Iwojima was made possible and transfered there for instance.

Tactics are not only measured on the actual battle field action, or with the skill of the command planning . . .but tactics rely on the organisation and anticipation skills of how warfare preparations are conducted, insuring maximal capacity and usage of available ressources . . . . which on Iwojima failed completely.

On another note, what impact could have done a small or larger air strike force from japan , entering battle over Iwojima after an allied landing. Defending the island before the invasion, was not efective, as the allied forces planned to get full air superiority before the landing and had the capcity to do so.?? would have made a surprise attack and beach bombardements from the japanese airforce any difference?

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