Seismic Activity Raises WWII-Era ‘Ghost Ships’ Off the Coast of Iwo Jima

Photo Credit: 1. Joe Rosenthal / Wikimedia Commons 2. ANNnewsCH / YouTube
Photo Credit: 1. Joe Rosenthal / Wikimedia Commons 2. ANNnewsCH / YouTube

An increase in seismic activity along a chain of islands south of Tokyo, Japan has led to the raising of a number of transport vessels used as part of the American assault on Iwo Jima during the spring of 1945. The battle is considered one of the bloodiest of the Second World War.

Broken ship hulks spread across the shore of Iwo Jima
Remains of the transport vessels along the coast of Iwo Jima. (Photo Credit: ANNnewsCH / YouTube)

The decomposing hulks belonged to 24 Japanese transport vessels that were captured by the US Navy in the final stages of WWII and deliberately placed along the western coast of Iwo Jima to form a port, as the island did not have such facilities. The ships served as a breakwater to protect US vessels unloading material and men battling in Japan.

Breakwaters are walls, typically made from wood or stone, that protect harbors from waves.

The area was marked as Brown Beach on invasion maps, and the intention was to create a large, artificial naval base in preparation for the planned assault on mainland Japan. However, it broke down in the Pacific Ocean and was abandoned, with the Japanese vessels left to sink.

Soldiers raising the American flag at Iwo Jima
Raising the American flag on Iwo Jima, February 1945. (Photo Credit: Joe Rosenthal / Wikimedia Commons)

Recently, the seabed off Iwo Jima has risen due to seismic activity beneath the island’s 554-foot Mount Suribachi, one of the most active volcanoes in Japan. The country sits on the “Ring of Fire,” a chain of volcanoes and fault lines along the edge of the Pacific. It has 110 active volcanoes, and Mt. Suribachi is considered one of the 10 most dangerous.

According to Oregon State University, there have been at least 10 eruptions on Iwo Jima – known as “Sulphur Island” – the latest occurring in 1982. There have been at least 30-feet of uplift since 1952 due to seismic activity, which led the hulks to sit atop a bed of volcanic ash, as shown by aerial footage from Japan’s All-Nippon News Network.

The entire length of the Japanese island chain has experienced an increase in subterranean activity over the last few weeks, with a 5.9-magnitude earthquake striking Tokyo and a large portion of eastern Japan on October 7, 2021. According to The Telegraph, this was the largest since the earthquake that struck the country’s northeast in March 2011. That tremor and its resulting tsunami killed an estimated 20,000 people.

Broken ship hulks spread across the shore of Iwo Jima
The transport vessels were captured by the US Navy during the final stages of WWII. (Photo Credit: ANNnewsCH / YouTube)

The United States was interested in capturing Iwo Jima for its two airfields. During the battle for control of the island, 20,000 Japanese soldiers were killed and another 216 captured. The US lost approximately 7,000 men.

Iwo Jima was returned to Japan in 1968 and is currently occupied by a detachment of military personnel. No civilians reside on the eight-square-mile island due to the amount of unexploded munitions that litter its shores. As such, there are no immediate plans to remove the ships from their current location.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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