Iwo Jima


Iwo Jima, pronounced EE woh JEE muh, is the middle island of the three Volcano Islands, or Kazan Retto, in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. More than 6,000 men, including more than 5,800 men of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth United States Marine divisions, died in capturing its 8 square miles (21 square kilometers) from the Japanese in February and March, 1945. The capture of Iwo Jima was of great help to the American forces in the last stages of the war against Japan.

Before Iwo Jima was captured, Japanese fighter planes had attacked United States bombers from there. After American forces won the island, United States fighter planes used the airstrips to protect bombers flying from Saipan and Tinian to Japan. Iwo Jima fields also served as emergency landing places for B-29 bombers returning from raids on Japan.

Iwo Jima is about 5 miles (8 kilometers) long and about 21/2 miles (4 kilometers) wide at its widest point. It is shaped somewhat like the continent of South America. At the southern end is Mount Suribachi, a volcano. The northern part of the island has hills with deep gulches. The soil on the island is made of gray volcanic ash. It was soft enough for the Japanese defending Iwo Jima during the war to dig extensive underground fortifications.

Iwo Jima is Japanese for Sulfur Island. Before World War II, sulfur was mined on the island. About 1,000 Japanese lived there at that time. They planted cotton, sugar cane, cacao, coffee, and vegetables. The soil is so porous that there are no streams, and water is scarce. Civilians were removed before the war. The United States controlled the island until 1968, when it was returned to Japan.

Contributor: Robert C. Kiste, Ph.D., Director and Prof., Univ. of Hawaii Center for Pacific Islands Studies.