109th Division (Imperial Japanese Army)
|Active||1944 - 1945|
|Country||Empire of Japan|
|Branch||Imperial Japanese Army|
The Imperial Japanese Army's 109th Division (第109師団 Dai-hyakuku Shidan?) was a division of 20,000 soldiers. Commanded by Tadamichi Kuribayashi, it was the main Japanese garrison on the volcanic islands of Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima which was attacked by American forces from February to March 1945.
Formed on 30 June 1944, the 109th Division consisted of two reinforced brigades under the command of Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi who was a descendant of Samurais, half the 109th was stationed to each island with Major General Tachibana commanding those on Chichi Jima and Kuribayashi commanding those on Iwo Jima.
Many of the 109th's personnel had previously served in China, Burma and the Dutch East Indies and had become reservists who were now reluctant to go back to battle. To bolster morale the Japanese Emperor Hirohito sent his own palace guard of anti-aircraft gunners to Chichi Jima to support the troops—as it was expected the main force of Americans would strike there, however the Allied Joint Chiefs of Staff decided to bypass Chichi Jima altogether.
With preparations underway Kuribayashi worked with the tactic of defense-in-depth building numerous pillboxes for machine-gunners and 13,000 yards of tunnels with even a field-hospital worked in. However he had issues with many officers—dismissing 18 of them along with his Chief-of-staff, Kuribayashi also lost control of the Naval troops who dug in on the beaches.
The Battle Begins
On the 19th of February 1945 the battle began, but quickly came the feeling that the 109th were doomed as air or naval relief would not be able to help. Kuribayashi ordered his troops to inflict maximum damage and casualties on the enemy and to "kill 10 men before dying".
For 33 days the 109th fought on Iwo Jima, facing against tanks and heavy bombardments from the sea and air. In the end only 1083 Japanese survived, with a mere 216 captured from the 109ths 21,000 men during the battle, the other 867 Japanese soldiers came from other units. As for Kuribayashi, it is generally thought that he committed suicide by leading the last major counterattack. The rest held out hungry and alone in Iwo Jima's tunnels until the U.S. soldiers used explosives to clear the tunnels weeks later.
During a dinner with Major Yoshitaka Horie (in charge of 109th Divisions Detached Headquarters on Chichi Jima) Kuribayashi asked Horie his opinion for defending Iwo Jima, to which Horie replied it was vulnerable as "a pile of eggs" and better to sink it to the bottom of the ocean with enough explosives. Kuribayashi—who had spent much time in Canada as deputy military attache and traveled often in America—was in agreement, however they knew that at 628 miles from Tokyo Iwo Jima would be "a dagger aimed straight at the heart of the homeland". Before leaving Japan to take up his post, Kuribayashi had informed his wife not to expect him home.