General Kuribayashi’s Application of Mission Command
Capt Emma Frowine, USMC
ECCC 3-12, Team Charlie
28 June 2012
The Battle of Iwo Jima (19 February – 26 March 1945) was a pivotal conflict during World War II characterized by some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific Campaign. For Japan, Iwo Jima served as their last line of defense protecting their homeland from the Allied advancements. Japan knew the strategic significance of the island for both Allied and Axis powers and was equally certain that the U. S. would seek to secure it. Resolved that America would pay a huge price for every inch of ground gained, The Battle of Iwo Jima become the bloodiest battle of World War II and remains the most costly of battles in Marine Corps history. Three Marine Divisions conducted an amphibious landing and assault to destroy one heavily defended Japanese Division on the 7.5 square mile island of Iwo Jima. The 36-day assault claimed 6,766 U.S. lives and nearly 20,000 wounded. For the Japanese, the loss was even more staggering with only 1,083 survivors of the original 21,060 defenders. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the commander for Japanese forces, “proved to be Japan’s greatest wartime general and…the most redoubtable adversary” for the United States. Kuribayashi displayed brilliant leadership and tactical application of strategic objectives, as he skillfully employed the art and science of mission command in his epic defense of Iwo Jima. The commencement of World War II in 1939 was largely the result of a decades-long Japanese pursuit for dominance in China and the Pacific. The United States officially entered the war on 8 December 1941, the day after the Imperial Japanese Navy conducted a surprise attack against the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii crippling the U.S Pacific Fleet. Ironically, an attack intended to prevent the United States and their superior Navy, from interfering with Japan’s military objectives in the Pacific, would eventually lead to their defeat. As the United States began to rebuild her fleet, Japan had no idea that a determined and capable task force would soon steam through the Pacific for the Island of Iwo Jima, where one the bloodiest and most devastating battles of the war would take place. By 1942, the United States and Allied forces initiated a major land offensive known as the island hopping campaign. In order to gain air superiority, the Allies targeted any island that could support airstrips. This initiative would soon lead them into the heart of Japanese defenses on the island of Iwo Jima. After the U.S. gained control of the airfields in the Mariana Islands in 1944, their focus shifted to Iwo Jima. With three airfields located only 660 nautical miles (nm) South of Tokyo and 625 nm North of the Mariana’s, Iwo Jima had strategic significance to both the U.S. and Japan. Japanese bombers flying from Iwo Jima conducted frequent raids on the Mariana’s and on U.S. B29 bombers heading for mainland Japan. Additionally, the radar station located on Iwo Jima provided mainland Japan with a two hour warning of pending raids. From a U.S. perspective, “it was obvious that Iwo Jima had to come under American control, not only to neutralize the [Japanese] attacks, but to provide a forward refuge for damaged bombers, as a base for air-sea rescue operations, and for P51 Mustang fighters to escort the Superfortresses on the second leg of their long trip to Japan.” In May of 1944, the Japanese Prime Minister selected General Kuribayashi for command of the 109th Infantry Division, giving him complete liberty for the defense of the island. As a young Captain, Kuribayashi spent time in the U.S. and developed admiration for the “country's rich, gregarious and self-reliant people that made him fear ever facing them in combat.” In a letter to his wife he wrote: “The United States is the last country in the world that Japan should fight.” Twenty years later,...