This impressive collection of WWII photographs located by Jim Purcell was originally put together by the President of the 7th Fighter Command Association, Mark Stevens, who is also the Director of Communications for the Iwo Jima Association of Renton, WA. Please visit their home site right here to see even more inspiring photographs of the Iwo Jima action during the waning days of WWII. We would like to commend them for doing all this tedious yet vital historical work and of making the photographs available to the public for its inspiration and education. THANK YOU, 7th FIGHTER!
Remember to click on any photo to see its full size and resolution.
The five U.S. Marines and sole Navy Corpsman (seen in the top photograph, along with each of their names, and whether they survived or not) raised the American flag over Mt. Suribachi five days after the landing on the black volcanic sand beach of this tiny atoll. The small island is almost half way from the Mariana Islands towards Japan. The flag raising photo is what most Americans, young and old alike, remember so well, since that historic photo froze for all time that inspiring moment in history. It was taken by AP photographer, Joe Rosenthal and earned him the Pulitzer Prize that same year (1945) and is likely the most reproduced photo of all time.
Nevertheless, many people don’t have any idea exactly why this small island was targeted by the U.S. in its final push to defeat Japan, having just defeated both Nazi Germany and the Italian Fascists in Europe. Many Japanese islands in the South Pacific were still in the enemy’s hands, but we nevertheless pushed past them to take on this highly fortified island using some 110,000 U.S. Military personnel. After all, our Navy had no capacity to use this harbor-less island and the Army couldn’t employ it for troop-staging, either, since it was too small, but it was considered an essential stepping stone for the U. S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) in their plans to invade the Japanese mainland.
The bloodshed from that five-week battle proved to be some of the most devastating in the entire war for both sides in the conflict. Of the approximately 22,000 Japanese Imperial troops occupying the atoll, only 216 were captured alive at the end of the main push, although another 3,000 Japanese soldiers were later gradually discovered hiding in the immensely intricate labyrinth of tunnels and caves permeating almost every part of that remote 8 square mile abutment of rocky volcanic land rising out of the vast Pacific. The slide show for which this history is written, will show you some of those caves. Depiction in map at the left shows where the battle line has just pushed past the second airfield after the 8th day of fighting.
The American toll in capturing Iwo Jima, as you may recall, was also horrific, with 6,821 Marines and Corpsmen killed – – – and another 19,217 were wounded.
The Japanese had already built two major airfields on Iwo Jima (seem colored map just above and to the left of the above photo of the parked planes), both which were operational by the enemy at the time of the U. S. strike, and the Japanese had another one under construction on its Northernmost promontory (also seen in the colored map above the parked planes).
Even while the chaotic mayhem of battle went on, some of the Army’s first P-51 Mustang Fighters and a few of its huge B-29 Superfortress bombers arrived, once the landing strips had been sufficiently secured and the runway surface bombardment holes filled by the Marines and Navy Seabees.
For some reason, we rarely encounter photos of what transpired during the operations of those USAAF Fighter groups and the heavy bombers they were there to escort and protect, while flying their high risk missions deep into the Japanese mainland’s fiercely protected homeland air space.
FASF story and photo scout, James Purcell, of Detroit, has discovered this fascinating and rarely seen historic photo collection of the Air Force’s activities during those early days of operations out of Iwo Jima’s two main airfields. The carnage wasn’t just dished out by the Fighter and Bombardment groups housed there, as the following photo album will reveal, because, in the midst of their early flight operations, the Army’s aviation personnel were still sometimes attacked or bombarded by mortars from the remaining Japanese troops still alive and fighting from isolated pockets of resistance across the atoll. There were, as these intriguing photos display, also many airplane crashes resulting when crippled Fighters and Bombers tried to land at the end of their missions over Japan, as can be seen immediately below. Mr. Purcell’s discovery of this 7th Fighter Command Association photo collection will show you many more of the results of those mishaps.
We think you will be fascinated to get this rare peek into what transpired during those final days of WWII on that small Japanese island for which both our enemy and we paid such a high price. The offensive sorties made from Iwo Jima over Japan helped, strategically, preoccupy the enemy enough to facilitate our next conquest, which was Okinawa, an Island air base even closer to the Japanese mainland.
The “Enola Gay” and its sister ship, the “Bockscar” took off from Tinian Island, in the Mariana Island Chain, much farther South near Guam, but had Iwo Jima and Okinawa as planned emergency backup airfields should their plans go awry. The “Enola Gay” flew right over Iwo Jima on its historic route to Hiroshima where, on August 6, 1945, it dropped the world’s first nuclear device, “Little Boy.” Despite weeks of heavy ‘warning to civilian’ leaflet dropping over Japan by waves of earlier bombers – and the holocaust of that first nuclear Hiroshima device, Japan refused to surrender “unconditionally.” However, three days later, when “Bockscar” dropped its “Fat Boy” atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan finally surrendered, thus ending the horrors of WWII.
Here are some interesting USAAF statistics: By the end of WWII almost 2400 B-29’s had made unscheduled emergency landings on Iwo Jima. Before the invasion, the Island was bombarded continuously for more than two months to “soften” it for the landings, but those 74 days of bombardment proved almost useless, because the Japanese troops were too effectively protected by the extensive and intricate labyrinth of more than 11 miles of deeply placed tunnels and caves all throughout the small island.
We have studied all of the captions for the following slide-show’s rarely seen photographs, and have discovered a number of obvious errors and even a few repetitions, but we suspect you will catch them, also.
Purcell advises: “Don’t use auto run, take your time and scroll thru each picture . . . just put your pointer on the picture to get the drop down info. Click on the picture to see it in full size. Some (of these) WW II Iwo Jima photos are not normally found in today’s “quick” history updates . . .”