Monday, February 23, 2015

Iwo Payback

The iconic image of the flag-raising atop Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi was snapped by war-photographer Joe Rosenthal, seventy years ago today.

Two and a half years before, the United States had begun its march across the Pacific in the War against Japan -- landing on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.  Guadalcanal had but one resource or feature of any strategic significance -- an airfield that put Japanese bombers within reach of Australia.  

Wresting Guadalcanal and its airfield from the Japanese halted their advance in the South Pacific and gave American airpower a land base from which to carry the fight north toward Japan. 

Like Guadalcanal, the island of Iwo Jima had but one resource or feature of any strategic significance -- an airfield, roughly midway between the large air bases on the recently captured islands of Saipan and Tinian. 

Nearly seven thousand American Marines and Navy Corpsmen died taking Iwo.  

In fact, because the island was too small for use as an Army or Marine staging base and had no significant port facilities, many historians and strategists discount the worth of taking Iwo.

But, that view is narrow and short-sighted, in the Colonel's not-so-humble opinion. 

Heavy U.S. bombers attacking mainland Japan, could just make the long over-water hauls from Tinian to Tokyo and back. Any damage suffered over Japan, or any non-battle mechanical trouble (the long-range B-29 bomber -- then the most advanced of its kind -- had notoriously unreliable engines), often meant ditching in the expansive Western Pacific with little hope of rescue. 

Over the course of the next several months, as the Army Air Corps stepped up its bombing campaign over the Japanese home islands, over a thousand B-29 bombers -- each with an eleven-man crew -- made emergency landings on Iwo's airfield.   

Thousands of U.S. Army Air Corps fliers owed their lives to thousands of Marines who died taking Iwo. 

The favor was returned -- the aerial assault, culminating in the atomic strikes in August of 1945, brought the surrender of Japan and eliminated the need for horrendously costly amphibious assaults on the home islands of Japan.

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