Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Ghost Ships of Iwo Jima

Ghostly Reminders of World War II

Ghost Ships of Iwo Jima
Ghost ships of Iwo Jima.

Iwo Jima is remote, and it has no permanent inhabitants. Almost nobody is allowed to visit, and those that do get permission must travel on special tours that are conducted once a year. But some news just came out of Iwo Jima that bring alive the ghosts of the past.

Some eerie happenings on Iwo Jima in late 2021 are unearthing things long thought forgotten. I'll get to those below. But the past is haunting the present on one of the ultimate battlefields of World War II. If you've never seen any of the pictures on here before, there's a good reason for it.
Ghost Ships of Iwo Jima

The Battle for Iwo Jima (Operation Detachment) was one of the fiercest of the Pacific Campaign. Lasting from February 19 through March 26, 1945, the battle cost many thousands of lives on both sides (roughly 30,000 in total along with many U.S. casualties; only about 200 of 20,000 Japanese soldiers survived). While the United States secured the island after this vicious fight, nobody really won anything useful.

Ghost Ships of Iwo Jima

There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about Iwo Jima. Everyone knows it was a "great victory" for the United States Marines. The photos of the flag raisings are known by everyone and the most famous one was turned into a fabulous memorial in Washington, D.C.
Ghost Ships of Iwo Jima

Once you scratch below the surface, that is when the legend engine goes off the rails. Let me make plain this was not the fault of any man who fought there, not to demean them, not to diminish what they did. Every man who sacrificed himself on Iwo Jima died a hero. The truth, however, is better than a lie.
Ghost Ships of Iwo Jima

Many people think that Iwo Jima was vital to the bombing and projected invasion of Japan. In fact, Iwo Jima was not needed at all for either of those objectives. Iwo Jima would have played no role in the invasion had it occurred, and no bombers ever flew from Iwo Jima to drop atomic bombs on Japan or, well, any bombs at all.

That's right. No bombers flew from Iwo Jima to bomb Japan. None.

The reason that Iwo Jima was basically useless is simple. The island has no harbor and ships cannot dock and unload supplies there. This made the island incapable of supporting bombing operations against Japan despite its location being much more suited for that role than other nearby islands that did have harbors.

Ghost Ships of Iwo Jima

Bombs are heavy, 1945 atomic bombs were the heaviest of all, and it's just not logistically feasible to bring any bombs ashore on lighters or landing craft. If you're going to fly bombs in to load them on Iwo Jima, you might just as well just skip that step and fly them straight for air delivery to Tokyo itself.

Along with Guam, the site of a major U.S. airbase before World War II, The US Army Air Force used airfields on Saipan and Tinian in the Mariana Islands for Twentieth Air Force B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers. While these islands were several more hours flying time from Japan than Iwo Jima, they did have harbors.

In the Spring of 1945, after the battle to capture Iwo Jima, the U.S. Navy decided to try and make an artificial harbor there to justify the wild loss of life capturing it. That worked off the beaches of Normandy, though that was a drastically different situation. There, the military could tow across "Mulberry Harbors," temporary portable harbors developed by the United Kingdom.
Ghost Ships of Iwo Jima
The location of the wrecks on the western shore of Iwo Jima is marked on this Google Earth map. The beach is dark because it is black volcanic sand. This beach was where many U.S. Marines took their last breaths. 

Unfortunately, Mulberry Harbors are huge and it would have been extremely difficult and time-consuming to get them to Iwo Jima. Since bringing Mulberry Harbors halfway around the world was not feasible, the U.S. military improvised. Navy Seabees sank 24 captured Japanese transport ships off the western coast of Iwo Jima to establish a breakwater. 
Ghost Ships of Iwo Jima
Site of the sunken Japanese ships. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (Photos: Kelly Warrick).

This project was a complete failure and the Seabees quickly abandoned it. The wrecks are still there.

The reason why I'm writing about this now in October 2021 is that Mount Suribachi, which dominates Iwo Jima, has been rumbling recently. Some fear that it could erupt. But what it's already done is expose these old shipwrecks that haven't been seen since 1945.
Ghost Ships of Iwo Jima

That's why you've never seen most of these shots before - because the ghost ships only recently appeared. This is big news in Japan, but you'd probably never hear about it anywhere else.


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