Ghost Ships Resurface From Iwo Jima sea bed

After a particularly volatile period of volcanic disruption several ghost ships have risen from beneath the waves around the island of Iwo Jima. The Japanese government has thus far said it plans to do nothing to remove the wrecks. In all likelihood, they will sink once again when the temporary sea shelf on which they’re resting shifts once more.

About one year ago, just off the coast of Iwo Jima, Japan, 24 transport ships that had sunk during World War Two resurfaced because of underwater seismic volcanic activity caused by Mount Suribachi. The mountain sits at the southwestern end of the island.

Iwo Jima was the site of one of the most historic, and bloodiest, battles between the United States Armed Forces (the Marines, in particular) and the Japanese during the conflict in the Pacific. In just 36 days, 70,000 Marines attacked the island and defeated 20,000 well dug in enemy soldiers.

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Mount Suribachi

Ghost ships from WW2
Ghost ship seen for the first time since the U.S. forces sank them during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. Image credit: Lance Cpl. Courtney White/United States Marine Corps

Although staged for a second time, the photo of the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima is perhaps one of the most iconic photographs of the entire war. It was taken by an Associated Press photographer who was covering the invasion and subsequent American victory. It was taken on the peak of Mount Suribachi after heavy fighting.

The United States Navy scuttled the transport ships almost immediately after the battle in 1945. Doing this lent incoming troops and weapon carrying craft a degree of protection, acting as a kind of barrier against the larger waves rolling into the shore. Today, the ships’ hulks are pale and bleached out, resembling more a series of eerie apparitions than the imposing crafts they once were.

According to Japanese officials, the undersea volcano has been more active lately. Its seismic activity even created a small, temporary island made of sand and debris. Churning waves soon washed over it, and it eventually disappeared back into the deep. According to Japan’s Centre For Integrated Volcano Research, Mount Suribachi was causing reverberations in the area for more than a year.

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Seeing two dozen World War II vessels dotting the shoreline of Iwo Jima is a remarkable sight.  But according to experts, it is temporary – with even a minor eruption by the underwater volcano, making them submerge once again.  Yet though the ships are likely to vanish, experts acknowledge that there has been an upswing in volcanic disturbances that could cause them to rise once again.

Ghost ships from WW2
24 ships washed ashore on the western side of the island of Iwo Jima. Image credit: Lance Cpl. Courtney White/United States Marine Corps

Ghost Ships

Perhaps a cycle is underway, in which the vessels come to the surface, then sink, then come back up again. No one can predict positively what will happen to them – that all depends on the volcano, which is notoriously unpredictable, like the many munitions that still litter the island and its many plane wrecks.

Iwo Jima is one of the Bonin Islands. It looms large in tales about the Pacific Ocean front of the Second World War.  Before the American invasion, it was used only as a military installation by the Japanese. There were, at the time of the Marines’ attack, three airstrips on Iwo Jima that American military officials hoped to seize in just three or four days. The actual battle took more than four weeks with the Americans sustaining heavy casualties.

Ghost ships from WW2
U.S. forces sank the ships during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. Image credit: Lance Cpl. Courtney White/United States Marine Corps

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This was partially due to the fact that the Japanese had devised an unusual strategy – they had their soldiers hide in caves and deep bunkers in the island’s jagged mountainous terrain. Consequently, it took a lot longer for the Marines to defeat the Japanese than the Allies had initially expected.

Nonetheless, victory did come on March 26th 1945.  Although the Japanese certainly endured greater losses of personnel, the Americans also suffered considerable losses also. It wasn’t until 1968 that control of the island was returned to the Japanese.

Today, there are no civilians and very little activity on Iwo Jima, although there are some Japanese military personnel stationed there. That is, in part, because vestiges of the war still remain. Unexploded bombs and mines keep the island perpetually treacherous – in spite of its historical importance – civilians are kept at a safe distance.