Bombs and shells pound the surface of Iwo Jima

After the final mission over Iwo Jima on 15 February 1945, 1st Lt. Victor 0. Besche crosses off the most recent enemy base to enter "assignment carried out" ledger of this 7th Air Force 318th fighter group. Fellow P-38 pilots looking on are, left to right: Lt. Jack Yaeger of Tallahassee, Florida; Lt. J.T. Spivey of Suffolk, Virginia and Lt. R.G.O'Hara of Reading, Ohio. Lt. Besche is from Baltimore, Maryland. Saipan, Marianas Islands.
After the final mission over Iwo Jima on 15 February 1945, 1st Lt. Victor 0. Besche crosses off the most recent enemy base to enter “assignment carried out” ledger of this 7th Air Force 318th fighter group. Fellow P-38 pilots looking on are, left to right: Lt. Jack Yaeger of Tallahassee, Florida; Lt. J.T. Spivey of Suffolk, Virginia and Lt. R.G.O’Hara of Reading, Ohio. Lt. Besche is from Baltimore, Maryland. Saipan, Marianas Islands.
28th Photo Recon - In front of one of their first photo reconnaissance planes in the Marianas Islands, these six 7th AaF Lightning pilots indicate the 12-foot stack which the 17,170 prints from their pre-invasion photographs of Iwo Jima would make if assembled in one heap. Flying l,600 miles per round trip in their unarmed Lightnings to race across Iwo Jima 50 feet above Jap gun muzzles, these pilots took pictures for Army, Navy and Marine units planning the invasion of Iwo Jima. L. to R. on grounds 2nd_Lt. Floy Portor, Memphis, Tenn.; lst Lt. Lloyd Q. Mettes, Atlanta, Mo.; 2nd Marshall E. Mullens Omaha, Nebr.; and lst Lt. Alfred A. Wooton, Buckeye, Ariz. On shoulders; Capt. Bennie P. Bearden, Decatur, Texas. On nose; 1st Lt. Leo F. Wilkinson, Oxford, Ind.
28th Photo Recon – In front of one of their first photo reconnaissance planes in the Marianas Islands, these six 7th AaF Lightning pilots indicate the 12-foot stack which the 17,170 prints from their pre-invasion photographs of Iwo Jima would make if assembled in one heap. Flying l,600 miles per round trip in their unarmed Lightnings to race across Iwo Jima 50 feet above Jap gun muzzles, these pilots took pictures for Army, Navy and Marine units planning the invasion of Iwo Jima. L. to R. on grounds 2nd_Lt. Floy Portor, Memphis, Tenn.; lst Lt. Lloyd Q. Mettes, Atlanta, Mo.; 2nd Marshall E. Mullens Omaha, Nebr.; and lst Lt. Alfred A. Wooton, Buckeye, Ariz. On shoulders; Capt. Bennie P. Bearden, Decatur, Texas. On nose; 1st Lt. Leo F. Wilkinson, Oxford, Ind.
Bombs from U.S. Army 7th Air Force planes are seen here about to fall on Iwo Jima. Although tiny, the island is the only major airbase between the Marianas and Japan. It is the last air barrier before the home islands, guarding the southeastern approach to the Empire. U.S. planes bomb it again and again.
Bombs from U.S. Army 7th Air Force planes are seen here about to fall on Iwo Jima. Although tiny, the island is the only major airbase between the Marianas and Japan. It is the last air barrier before the home islands, guarding the southeastern approach to the Empire. U.S. planes bomb it again and again.

The US forces in the Pacific now moved onto another staging post on the route to the Japanese mainland. Iwo Jima was half-way between the Mariana islands, already in US hands, and Japan itself. Capturing it would prevent it being used by the Japanese to spot or intercept bombers en route to Japan and would halve the distance the US bombers needed to fly. The initial assessment was that it could be captured relatively easily.

On the 16th February 1945 Marine Brigadier General William W. Rogers held a press conference on the command ship USS Eldorado, telling those present that the coming invasion of Iwo Jima would take five days. Strong fighting on the beaches was expected followed by counter-attacks at night – suicidal Banzai charges. But once the initial resistance was over they could take the island quickly.

There were reasons to believe that the Japanese forces on Iwo Jima were seriously weakened, they had been subject to bombing since mid 1944, and they had been bombed every single day for the past 74 days, with a total of 6,800 tons of bombs. In addition there had been periodic, intense, naval bombardments, which started again on the 16th.

It seemed hard to believe that anything could survive on the island after this plastering – but the raids had served to encourage the Japanese in their new strategy of moving underground and waiting for the invasion troops to come to them.

The battleship USS New York firing its 356 mm (14.0 in) main guns on the island, 16 February 1945
The battleship USS New York firing its 356 mm (14.0 in) main guns on the island, 16 February 1945

Takahashi Toshiharu was a corporal in the Japanese First Mixed Brigade of Engineers, responsible for building some of the eleven miles of tunnels and underground bunkers on the island:

The guns that were trained on the island all spurted fire at the same time. On the island there was a huge earthquake. There were pillars of fire that looked as if they would touch the sky.

Black smoke covered the island, and shrapnel was flying all over the place with a shrieking sound. Trees with trunks one meter across were blown out of the ground, roots uppermost.

The sound was deafening, as terrible as a couple of hundred thunderclaps coming down at once.

Even in a cave thirty meters underground, my body was jerked up off the ground. It was hell on earth.

Next, large planes—many tens of them—came all together. They made a deep rumbling sound as they came. They were silver. Once over the island they dropped one-ton bombs — terrifying things. The sound they made as they fell, one after another, was terrifying. A timid man would go insane.

They made a whistling sound as they fell. Then the earth shook. There were explosions. Rocks, earth, and sand all flew up into the air. Then they fell back down. They made craters ten meters wide and five meters deep in the earth.

No one could survive in these conditions. Any Japanese soldiers, like the runners who went outside, were all killed. The only option was to take advantage of the night and go out then.

See Kumiko Kakehashi: Letters from Iwo Jima: The Japanese Eyewitness Stories That Inspired Clint Eastwood’s Film

The bombing was so intense that vast quantities of earth were dislodged from the summit of Mount Suribachi, the heighest point on the island was now somewhat lower.

Boeing B-29s from their new base on Tinian pound the air strip on Iwo Jima during the pre invasion "softening up" process. One of the two Jap airfields on Iwo Jima is shown here completely blanketed by 500 pounders dropped from the 21st Bomber Command Superforts.
Boeing B-29s from their new base on Tinian pound the air strip on Iwo Jima during the pre invasion “softening up” process. One of the two Jap airfields on Iwo Jima is shown here completely blanketed by 500 pounders dropped from the 21st Bomber Command Superforts.
The entire, tiny, eight-square-mile island of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Group, halfway between Saipan and Tokyo, is seen under attack by U.S. Army 7th Air Force Consolidated B-24 Liberators. A cross-like airfield is directly in the center of the island, beneath the smoke of bombs, and the triangular field is clearly visible to its right. 7th Air Force Liberators have pounded Iwo Jima since August.
The entire, tiny, eight-square-mile island of Iwo Jima in the Volcano Group, halfway between Saipan and Tokyo, is seen under attack by U.S. Army 7th Air Force Consolidated B-24 Liberators. A cross-like airfield is directly in the center of the island, beneath the smoke of bombs, and the triangular field is clearly visible to its right. 7th Air Force Liberators have pounded Iwo Jima since August.

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