Serious Simulation: The battle of Iwo Jima Island (WW2)

Urban Hawk Ltd are working with a former US Marine and Historian and a Geospatial mapping group to rebuild a day by day model of the battle of Iwo Jima – using a combination of technologies to create the most accurate model and simulation of the battle and even allow users to “play out” or explore what-if scenarios using the Polaron Engine.

If you’re not familiar with the battle – this documentary was produced and presented via NARA.

James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima

The data mapping allows us to produce a series of stages and phases – from which we can direct the individual and group entities to traverse that contested space – call in support and react to the changing terrain and support available.

Mapping the terrain – an Island that was potentially one of the most heavily shelled and bombed areas in the whole of WW2 and certainly in the Pacific theatre, allows us to produce a map of the terrain, to synthetise and map the defences, and permit the interaction of attacking and defending troops.

Some work in progress

The terrain played an important role in the battle, with near total superiority of supporting fire and aerial dominance – meant moving in the open or in the daytime was a costly and fatal affair.

The Japanese had created enormous defensive networks, including extensive defensive and sub-terranean positions, ambushes and traps. Which makes the modelling of not just the terrain, but the fighting positions, firing arcs and pathways through the terrain critical to the simulation.

The reality was that these caves and tunnels would prove highly resistant to conventional warfare and bombardment and forced adaptation and co-ordination to permit their eventual clearance and assault.

Modelling these requires the use of a range of direct and extrapolated data from different sources – to produce what we believe will be the most accurate model of the Iwo Jima defences ever prepared.

“…incredibly, the enemy defenses were growing. There were 450 major defensive installations when the bombing began.

Now there were over 750 … which becomes stronger the more you cut it up, Iwo Jima thrived on our bombardment.”

James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima.

“For most of the young boys, it had not fully sunk in yet that the defenders were not on Iwo, they were in Iwo, prowling the sixteen miles of catacombs…

– James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima

No easy choices

The battle presents an interesting simulation of competing and supporting resources and structures, be it the availability of water, munitions, reinforcements or materiel.

The choices that had to be made can be made again, or a different path allowed to be played out in order to educate and immerse the player. We plan to tie in the real-events into this – to allow different perspectives and historical accounts to be relived.

Ultimately there were no easy choices then – and for the player and user of the simulation the same will be true.

James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima

Hard Choices & Dilemmas

Bombardments & Fires

Choose where to direct fires and assaults, based on the best information possible. Consider how you might have used reconnaissance and support to identify positions and deploy limited time and resources ahead of the invasion.

The Japanese were not powerless either – and these decisions will have consequences – with kamikaze and aerial dogfights a real risk.

Drinkable Water & Combat power

Press on and meet the demands of the campaign, or permit the time to build out combat power and infrastructure. Your decisions at the operational level affect the tactical outcomes, fighting strength and how much your troops can endure.
Do you take the risk of moving casualty aid closer to the front line, or lines of engagement, do you build roads to let heavy vehicles move supplies faster. These choices are yours.

Plan Defences

Plan the defence of the island – and see how you might have changed or influenced the combat. When the cost of success was measured in American lives rather than the possession of the island – brutal choices had to be made.

By taking control of both sides – it’s possible to not just simulate but comprehend the motives and thoughts of both.

Counterfactuals as a learning tool

The ability to select a day of combat and play this out – allows for your plans and decisions to to be played out against the real events. The imperfection of situational awareness and cascading of orders – means your visions is rarely comprehensive. Plans must be made and set in place and left to run, with limited adjustment possible.

In Japanese eyes the Sulfur Island was infinitely more precious than Tarawa, Guam, Tinian, Saipan, and the others. To the Japanese, Iwo Jima represented something more elemental: It was Japanese homeland. Sacred ground
…. the island was part of a seamless sacred realm that had not been desecrated by an invader’s foot for four thousand years.

Easy Company and the other Marines would be attempting nothing less than the invasion of Japan.”

James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers; Heroes of Iwo Jima

Due to be launched in 2024.

Please do get in touch if you’d like to be involved!