Marines hit IWO JIMA 73 years ago....
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    Marines hit IWO JIMA 73 years ago....

    Seventythree years ago, U.S. Marines stormed the beaches of the craggy, bombed-out island of Iwo Jima.

    The island’s Japanese defenders had entrenched themselves in a honeycombed network of caves, tunnels, pillboxes and spider holes, and U.S. forces would spend the next several weeks advancing inch by bloody inch across unforgiving terrain.

    When the fighting finally ended in late-March, nearly 7,000 Marines and some 21,000 Japanese troops lay dead. By the time they splashed their way onto its southeastern beach on February 19, 1945, many of the U.S. Marine invasion force wondered if there were any Japanese left alive on Iwo Jima.

    Allied aircraft, battleships and cruisers had spent the previous two and a half months pulverizing the volcanic outcropping with thousands of tons of high explosives, leaving it a smoldering heap of charred boulders and burned-out vegetation.

    A haze of smoke now covered much of the island, and the stench of cordite and sulphur hung heavy in the air. “There wasn’t a tree left standing,” Corporal Stacy Looney later remembered, “wasn’t anything left standing.”

    The Marines had been told to expect heavy resistance, but the first waves of landing craft encountered only a few artillery bursts and scattered small arms fire.

    Thousands of infantrymen, tanks and vehicles were able hit the beach with relative ease. “There’s something screwy,” one corporal said of the ominous calm. The Marines were right to be suspicious. As soon as the first units advanced onto an ash-covered terrace beyond the shore, dozens of camouflaged Japanese batteries erupted with murderous mortar and machine gun fire, and artillery shells began raining down on the men and equipment still clogging the beach.

    “The honeymoon is over!” one officer yelled. In an instant, any illusions the Marines had of taking the island without a fight had evaporated.

    Outside of its proximity to Japan—still some 750 miles away—the 8 square mile hunk of land at Iwo Jima carried little significance. It lacked adequate supplies of fresh water and other resources, and its shores were too rocky to act as harbors for Navy ships.

    But as World War II moved closer to its conclusion, the island had become a crucial steppingstone in the American push toward the Japanese homeland.

    B-29 Superfortresses had begun making bombing runs over Tokyo, and they needed Iwo Jima as an emergency landing site and staging ground for their fighter escorts.

    To seize the island, the U.S. high command had marshaled the 3rd, 4th and 5th Marine divisions of the V Amphibious Corps under Lt. General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith.

    The total force included a staggering 70,000 men—the most Marines ever assembled for a single operation.

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    Last edited by FoxtrotOscar; 02-19-17 at 05:59 PM.

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