4th Marine Division troops on Iwo Beach.
It was a long, hard pull for the US Navy across the Pacific to within striking distance of Japan; but, by the time Saipan in the Marianas had been conquered (August 1944) and the major part of the Philippines liberated, two practicable routes were open to the ultimate objective -- the Nanpo Shoto and the Nansei Shoto island chains. The first, better known to Americans and Europeans as the Bonins, begins not far off Tokyo Bay and continues southerly for some 700 miles to Minami Shima, which is 290 miles northwest of the northernmost Marianas, and 615 miles north of Saipan. Most of these islands are tiny volcanic cones, too small for an airfield. But Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima had distinct possibilities.
The other island chain, the Nansei Shoto (better known to Americans and Europeans as the Ryukyus –- Okinawa being the largest island), forms a great arc some 600 miles long, from Honshu, southernmost of the Japanese home islands, to Formosa, making the eastern border of the East China Sea.
For a number of reasons, Iwo Jima was chosen as the next most important island that America needed to conquer in order to defeat Japan. It was very important for the success of the B-29 bombing of Japan as well as a base for fighter plane escorts for the B-29 bombers.
The battle of Iwo Jima featured the employment of three US Marine divisions (less one regiment) under a single tactical Marine command, the largest body of Marines committed to combat in one operation during World War II. Secondly, enemy resistance under General Kuribayashi was such that American casualties sustained in this operation exceeded those of the Japanese.
Over one-third of the total Marines who participated in the invasion were either killed, wounded or suffered from Battle Fatigue.
Credits: text and pictures: US Marine Corp., US Navy.
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