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Iwo Jima


Iwo Jima, an island of volcanic rock, is located halfway between Saipan and Japan. In enemy hands, it was an obstacle to B-29 formations en route to Japan, a staging area for enemy aircraft strikes against B-29 bases in the Marianas, and a threat to air-sea rescue operations along the B-29's flight route. In American hands, it would provide an emergency landing field for B-29s in distress, which previously had to ditch at sea, and a base from which AAF fighters could escort the Superfortresses to Japan.

After weeks of AAF and Navy aerial bombardment and shelling, Marines assaulted Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. Stubborn enemy troops resisted fanatically, and the island was not secured until late March at a cost of nearly 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 killed in action. Despite the high cost, the island would prove a haven to more than 24,000 B-29 crewmen whose planes used its emergency landing strips during the remainder of the war. On April 7, Iwo Jima-based P-51s flew their first B-29 escort missions to Japan and nine days later, began flying fighter sweeps to Japan in search of enemy aircraft and other targets on the ground. AAF fighter pilots seldom found any large concentration of Japanese planes, either in the air or on the ground.

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