“Secret” 1944 map of Iwo Jima prepared for the American invasion

1633rd Engineering Photomapping Platoon / Intelligence section (G-2) of Fleet Marine Force Pacific / 64th Engineering Topographical Battalion, SPECIAL AIR AND GUNNERY TARGET MAP SCALE 1 : 10,000 [:] G-2 BEACH MAP”A” INSTRUCTIONS PREPARED BY AC of S,G-2 FLEET MARINE FORCE, PACIFIC 28 OCTOBER 1944 FROM PHOTOGRAPHS TO 1 SEPT. 1944 SITUATION TO 25 SEPT. 1944. [Hawaii?], October 28, 1944.
Map printed in colors on “high wet strength paper (highly durable and moisture resistant),” 36”h x 26”w at neat line plus legend and margins. Old folds and just a bit of soiling, tack holes in margins, but about excellent.

A rare secret “situation map” of Iwo Jima prepared in anticipation of the February 19, 1945 U.S. invasion. The map shows the landing zones on the island’s southeastern and southwestern beaches and, most importantly, Japanese defensive installations throughout the island in minute detail… at least as they were known to American forces before the battle.

Iwo Jima, whose name translates as “Sulfur Island,” was an important midway point between the Japanese home islands and South Pacific airfields that by late 1944 were already in the hands of the Allies. 700 miles from Tokyo and 350 from the nearest U.S. airbase, with a central plain suitable for building large runways, American planners viewed it as a valuable target. In the end, despite the vast American superiority in men and materiel, the battle for the island was among the bloodiest of the Pacific Theater. In total, more than 6,800 U.S. Marines lost their lives and more than 19,000 were wounded, while a staggering 18,000 of the roughly 20,000 Japanese defenders were killed. In light of these terrible losses, there was, and still is, dispute about whether the invasion had been merited:

“As early as April 1945, retired Chief of Naval Operations William V. Pratt stated in Newsweek magazine that considering the “expenditure of manpower to acquire a small, God-forsaken island, useless to the Army as a staging base and useless to the Navy as a fleet base … [one] wonders if the same sort of airbase could not have been reached by acquiring other strategic localities at lower cost.”” (“Battle of Iwo Jima,” at Wikipedia.com)

The map
Offered here is a rare map of Iwo Jima, which would have provided planners and troops on the ground with a staggering amount of information about the natural and man-made landscape. Contours are given at 20-foot intervals, symbols indicate bluffs and terraces, and the mapmakers seem to have attempted to indicate every dwelling and other civilian structure on the island. The all-important Motoyama Airfields are clearly identified, and more than 30 distinct symbols are used to indicate different elements of the Japanese defenses, including for example eight distinct types of gun (from machine guns to heavy artillery), range finders, rifle pits, air raid shelters, searchlights, radio towers, &c, &c. Overprinted in blue are delineations of the projected landing beaches on the northwest and southeast ends of the island, with discouraging topographical notations about each (For instance: at Green-1 we read that “Vehicular movement inland appears impossible except at northern half of beach where bluff tapers down”; at Brown-2 “An abrupt high rise behind most of beach makes vehicular exit inland difficult if not impossible.”) In the end, American forces landed on the southeastern beaches, where the Japanese defenders allowed them to concentrate for perhaps an hour before opening up with mortars and artillery, causing terrible losses.

Several notations below the map indicate the complex, multi-layered effort required to produce it. Starting with a 1943 base map, in September 1944 the 1633rd Engineering Photomapping Platoon used aerial reconnaissance photos taken over the past month to add contour lines. Then in October the Intelligence section (G-2) of Fleet Marine Force Pacific used reconnaissance photos and other intelligence gathered as late as September 25th to compile the Japanese “installations” and lay out the proposed landing beaches. The 64th Engineering Topographical Battalion is also credited, though other than printing the map its contribution is not clear. The final product is dated 28 October 1944, just under four months before the invasion began on February 19, 1945. Thus, if the map was in fact used for pre-invasion planning or during the battle itself, it was likely out of date.

Indeed, for all the sophistication of the American intelligence effort and the resulting maps such as the one offered here, the results were disastrous. American planners failed to understand the defensive strategy of Japanese General Kurabayashi or the complexity and extent of the Japanese fortifications, which included a huge network of linked underground bunkers, well-hidden and -protected artillery positions, interlocking fields of fire, and some 11 miles of tunnels. They also vastly overestimated the impact of the months-long pre-invasion bombardment, which left these fortifications largely intact on the day of the invasion. Indeed, one recent writer quotes Admiral Chester Nimitz, American Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, as having said “Well, this will be easy. The Japanese will surrender Iwo Jima without a fight.” (Derrick Wright, The Battle for Iwo Jima, p. 51)

In all, a rare map prepared for one of the great battles of the Second World War, whose apparent excellence belies a tragic failure of American military intelligence and planning.

References and rarity
No examples located in OCLC. This firm has in recent years sold similar–though hardly identical—maps, one of which was marked up to indicate day-by-day progress over several weeks of the battle.