A Useless Objective Taken at Great Cost
"Well, this will be easy. The Japanese will surrender Iwo Jima without a fight." – Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.
Every side makes errors in war. There is no perfect strategy. The basic rule (Clausewitz, I think) is that no plan survives contact with the enemy. But, sometimes you just make boneheaded decisions for all the wrong reasons. The United States won the war and easily benefited the most from the conflict, but it made some real doozies.
There are a lot of candidates for the worst error by the United States. One could point to Operation Avalanche (the invasion of Anzio), the invasion of Peleliu, and pretty much everything that the United States did in the Philippines (a cataclysm of errors). These all involved mistakes, and each of them in its entirety could be called a mistake.
One of these errors was Operation Detachment, the invasion of Iwo Jima.
However, sometimes it is when things look a little too good that you develop a muscle-bound condition and do stupid things just because you can.
|The massive US invasion fleet off Iwo Jima proved of little value against the dug-in defenders - and was itself a tempting target.|
That was a mistake.
|The landing plan involved putting men ashore right below the mountain that dominates the island at the extreme left.|
What followed was not a disaster for the Americans. The island was duly captured. The history books don’t really make a big deal about Iwo Jima aside from the famous photograph of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi. So, chalk up another win and let’s go hit the bars!
|The Japanese were firing down on these men from above. That is not a good position to be in.|
|A kamikaze plane struck the USS Saratoga, shown, off Iwo Jima and caused extensive damage.|
The Japanese on Iwo Jima were determined. They dug in on both ends of the island and required huge expenditures of effort to dislodge. The scenes became eerily reminiscent of World War I.
|Artillery fire rained down from both sides and the troops had no cover. The scenes were reminiscent of World War II trench warfare.|
Say... that's kind of a lot of lives for an emergency airstrip, no?
Iwo Jima was useful for some heroic propaganda photographs, but that was about its only use. The USAAF kept its major bomber base on Tinian (others were on Guam and Saipan) - Iwo Jima was used only occasionally as an emergency landing field for crippled bombers.
As stated above, the United States won the battle of Iwo Jima. Yay team! But every battle involves a cost-benefit analysis, even if it isn't always analyzed that way. The grunts, the guys struggling up the beach, don't have a say on where they go and what they are subjected to. That is a decision made by people in full possession of the relevant information. They need to make decisions in the best interests of everyone, not just their own careers and the empty glory of "victories" that produce no real benefit to the cause.
I do not want to make it sound as if what I'm writing in this article is the "accepted view." In fact, the accepted view is that Iwo Jima was a glorious victory that "saved countless lives." There are pictures! There are statues! It was a glorious victory! Well, to that I respond, Iwo Jima also cost countless lives. It was a victory of taking some worthless ground that meant nothing to the outcome of the war from some defenders who didn't really pose a threat. And the "countless lives saved" actually wasn't that many - though, of course, it was important to the men whose lives were saved. Nobody is arguing that the Japanese should have won the battle or won the war, that is nonsense. The point is that Iwo Jima was a worthless battle that was not worth the cost.
|A grunt on Iwo Jima, just trying to survive.|
|"Hey, Joe, we're in the middle of a glorious victory! Joe? Joe?"|
I talk more about the details of the battle of Iwo Jima here.
|The glorious culmination of Operation Detachment.|