On this day in 1945, the first of 70,000 Marines began landing on the beaches of a small volcanic island in the Pacific named Iwo Jima.
The island was defended by approximately 22,000 Imperial soldiers of Japan. The Japanese could not retreat or hope for reinforcement or rescue. They refused to surrender and were dug in deep.
One month later when the battle was over 6,800 Americans had been killed and 19,000 wounded. Of the Japanese, only 216 were captured and over 21,000 were killed. By comparison, less than 4,500 Americans were killed in the entire Iraq war.
By March 1945 in the European theater of WWII the fighting was winding down in the Western front as Nazi Germany shifted resources to the Eastern front to slow the Soviet advance. Meanwhile the Marines were preparing for the invasion of Okinawa, which was to be the biggest and bloodiest battle of the Pacific theater.
The Japanese leaders knew they were doomed to lose the war. They hoped that their fierce resistance would result in a negotiated end to the war rather than their total defeat. Allied estimates of casualties from the invasion of Japan ran into hundreds of thousands of American deaths and millions of Americans injured.
Ironically, the futile Japanese effort to avoid total defeat resulted in the use of a terrifying new weapon – the atomic bomb.