Romain Cansière, Tanks on Iwo Jima 1945 (Osprey, 2024)
The enduring image of the Battle of Iwo Jima, in 1945, is that of US Marines stuck on a volcanic ash beach with Japanese fire raining down on them. What followed was a brutal slugfest across that small island where 49,000 men died on both sides. Less well known is the role of tanks in this battle. Both sides deployed tanks on Iwo Jima with varying fortunes. In this survey, Romain Cansière introduces those machines and the men who fought and, too often, died in them.
Cansière begins with a brief survey of Japanese tanks on Iwo Jima, all 35 of them, split into three Companies of light and medium tanks and an HQ Company, which were then allocated to different parts of the island to await the Americans. The invaders’ first wave alone consisted of 70 amphibious LVTs with 75mm guns. They were followed by M3 half-tracks, also with 75mm guns, and three Battalions of Shermans, including flamethrower variants. The Japanese also lacked anti-tank guns, preferring to attack with magnetic grenades for the most part, though they also improvised some guns and mines, some of the latter proved effective against Shermans. What they did have was mastery of the terrain, as the Americans soon found out. The US tankers improvised too, adding bits of wood, concrete, and steel to their armour to reduce the effect of Japanese attacks.
We move on to how tanks were used in combat. The amphibious tanks bogged down on the ash beaches, as did the M3s. Of those, the ones that did get off the beach were held back because they were too open and vulnerable. The Shermans would do the heavy lifting as the US Marines pushed inland, but as the tanks rolled forward, they encountered the mines and greater opposition. Despite losses, the US tanks worked with the infantry to methodically clear Japanese bunkers, though sometimes they had to retire because they drew fire down on the accompanying Marines. Elsewhere, Cansière notes, well-placed Japanese anti-tank guns and mines took their toll on the tanks and crews. The Japanese also used some tanks in counterattacks, but Shermans and Marine bazookas had the edge on them.
Cansière concludes with US casualty figures, and he observes that the US tanks on Iwo Jima fought differently than on other islands and that the new M4A3 Sherman had a significant advantage over the M4A2. As for the Japanese, they did the best they could but were annihilated, and they learned few lessons from the battle. The main US lesson was to increase battlefield support for their tanks and add more flamethrowers and dozer tanks. Cansière closes with a note on where you can visit the few remaining tanks from Iwo Jima. Although a slim volume, Tanks on Iwo Jima is an interesting read. Cansière covers all the bases in a survey style that doesn’t go too deep into his subject, though he includes a useful bibliography at the end for further reading. The photographs and artwork are first class as you might expect from Osprey. Modellers, wargamers, and military history buffs will all take something positive from Cansière’s book.