By Alex Jones
COLOURISED photos of US Marines fighting in the Pacific War’s bloodiest battles capture the true horror veterans faced.
Remarkable pictures, originally taken in the Pacific theatre 80 years ago, show a battered US trooper proudly holding the Stars and Stripes aloft as his comrades scan the horizon for enemies; soldiers bracing themselves for fierce retaliation after setting off explosives at the entrance of a cave bunker hiding scores of Japanese; and forcing an enemy fighter to surrender after he emerged from a war-ravaged building.
Another striking shot captures American soldiers clambering over a seawall defence on the island of Okinawa, where over 12,000 US troopers would be slaughtered.
The dramatic shots have been brought to life by electrician and military enthusiast Royston Leonard, 55, from Cardiff, Wales, who spends up to five hours working on each photo.
The talented colourist explained what inspired him to take on the sobering project.
“The Japanese code was to not surrender and to fight to the death which was their way to die in battle with honour, almost no prisoners were taken unless they were badly injured and could no longer fight,” he said.
“I’ve seen a lot of photos of the European war in colour but almost nothing from the Pacific War.
“The Japanese held every inch of every island they were on and the American soldiers had to fight for every inch that was taken as nothing was given for free.
“Colourisation is a hobby for me and by taking on photos like these I feel I get a fresh insight into what’s happening in the shots.”
As the Nazis collapsed in Europe under the constant advances of the Allied forces following the Battle of the Bulge, the war in the Pacific was as gruelling as ever as US Marines launched into battle after bloody battle, island hopping towards mainland Japan.
Amongst the worst was The Battle of Iwo Jima, an epic military campaign between US Marines and the Imperial Army of Japan in early 1945. Located 750 miles off the coast of Japan, the eight mile island of Iwo Jima had three airfields which allowed Axis fighter pilots to hamper United States bombing missions. It was viewed as a crucial steppingstone en route to Tokyo.
Determined to capture the airfields to use them as staging posts for bombing raids on the Japanese capital, US forces invaded the volcanic island on February 19, 1945, and the ensuing Battle of Iwo Jima lasted for five bloody weeks. The Allied Forces had bombarded the island for days in the lead up to the attack, but the Japanese forces had foreseen the huge raids and prepared against them. Iwo Jima was home to an 11-mile stretch advanced network of underground trenches, bunkers and tunnel, some reaching over 90 foot deep, all constructed to await the American offensive.
In some of the bloodiest fighting of World War II, it’s believed that all but 200 or so of the 21,000 Japanese forces on the island were killed, as were almost 7,000 Marines. Another 20,000 US soldiers were casualties of the gruesome skirmish with a total of around 100,000 US troops involved. Many Japanese soldiers died in suicidal charges against the invading forces. There was little cover on the island and the soft volcanic ash made quick movements almost impossible, meaning soldiers on all sides were frequently exposed.
One of the most famous images of the war – and possibly of all time – was captured on Iwo Jima. The flag-raising atop Mt. Suribachi took place on February 23, 1945; five days after the battle began. The image – which is copyrighted so Leonard is not allowed to publish his colourised version – has been seen across the world and is the basis for the Marine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
However, the flag in the iconic photo was not the first US flag to be raised on Mt Suribachi. There was an original, smaller flag hoisted – as seen in these shots – but it was brought down minutes after it was installed to raise the newer, larger flag.
The deadliest battle of the Pacific War was still to come and fought from April 1, to June 22, for the island of Okinawa. The Americans wanted the island at the southern tip of Japan to create a base for air raids on Japan as well as to ‘rehearse’ for the planned invasion of Japan’s main islands.
However, they met a fierce resistance. By June 22, the U.S. troops suffered nearly 50,000 casualties of which approximately one quarter were deaths. The Japanese, on the other hand, lost about 100,000 of 110,000 men. The largest amphibious campaign of the Pacific War also claimed heavy civilian casualties as an estimated 100,000 civilians were killed by the end of the campaign.
According to many historians, the Battle of Okinawa had a major influence on the US decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as it clearly revealed that the invasion of Japan would claim huge casualties on both sides.
Even after victory was declared, pockets of Japanese resistance remained. The last Japanese soldiers to surrender on Iwo Jima did so on January 6, 1949, nearly four full years after the start of the battle and three and a half years after the war ended.