The Battle of Iwo Jima


This February through March is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. In 1944 and early 1945, American forces in the south Pacific had been island hopping capturing Japanese strategic bases on the way to the eventual attack on the Japanese home islands.  
Strategic planners had decided to have American forces capture the island of Iwo Jima. The island was used by the Japanese to act as a base for air attacks, a radar warning base for American bomber attacks and as a location for temporary repairs to naval vessels. It had three airfields that could be used for B29 bombers, escort fighter aircraft and other aircraft. This would cut the flying time for raids on Japan in half.
The American force had superiority in both aircraft and ships. Intelligence concluded that the capture of Iwo Jima would take about one week. It was planned that the Navy would supply the support to the Marine landing force. Prior to the landing, naval artillery fire was delivered to the flat areas on the island in the vicinity of the landing craft zones which were low lands. It was expected that the Japanese would resist the landing force on the beach. However, the Japanese had changed tactics and dug a complex tunnel system in Mount Suribachi at the end of the island which was impervious to heavy shell fire and bombing attacks.
The attack began when battleships and other heavy warships rained 16-inch shells on the island and a Marine landing force attacked the island. The naval bombardment of the island was marginally effective knocking out some of the bunkers and pill boxes. However, a majority of the Japanese defenders survived in a deep tunnel system that was constructed in anticipation of the invasion. The Marines landed on soft, hot volcanic soil which made advancement difficult because of the heavy equipment they were carrying.

There was not much resistance, so the U. S. generals concluded that the naval bombardment had been successful. As the Americans piled up on the beach with troops and equipment, the Japanese let loose from their tunnel system with artillery and machine gun fire. The American casualties were horrific. This was one of the bloodiest battles in the Far East that lasted 31 days.  
On Feb. 28, 1945, Marines raised the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi, signaling a turning point in the favor of the Americans. Remnants of the Japanese force fought on until approximately March 26, 1945. The Japanese soldiers would not surrender and fought to the death. Approximately 21,000 Japanese soldiers were killed during the battle. American dead numbered 6,800 and about 20,000 wounded. Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the Marines raising the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi is imbedded in U.S. history and became the model for the large statue in Washington D.C. at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial.
Three veterans from Rochelle took part in the invasion.
Pvt. Charles B. Allen of Rochelle was involved in the battle for Iwo Jima.  He remarked “You can’t see what you are fighting, they are like rats – always in holes.” He was referring to the enemy soldiers hiding in tunnels.
James Whetson, Coxswain, USNR of Rochelle was involved in the invasion of Iwo. His heavy cruiser provided artillery support for the landings.
Ralph J. Oltman, USNR was on the destroyer Roe which sank two enemy ships off Iwo Jima during the battle.   
A special thanks to the Flagg Township Museum for information on Rochelle residents involved in the battle.